Lots of work, decisions to be made for those who serve
SIKESTON -- After 10 years of serving on Charleston R-1 School District's School Board, Clay Shelby will end his run at the end of the school year.
But for Pat Helms of East Prairie, the work has just begun. The former East Prairie elementary teacher and guidance counselor, is in the middle of her first year of a three-year term on the East Prairie R-2 School Board.
Although the two are on different ends of the spectrum, as school board members, they share a common goal. They want to ensure the education of their school district's children is the best it can be.
Missouri School Board Recognition Week is Jan. 27 through Feb. 1 and several schools are honoring their school board members with certificates and other public service announcements.
The idea behind promoting school board recognition week is to build public understanding of and support for the concept of local control of Missouri's public schools.
School board members have a very important job, and it's a challenging job, Helms noted. Understanding the process of how the school board works has been the most difficult transition to being a school board member, she said.
"Even though I've been working in education for years and attended meetings as a teacher and parent, it's still difficult when you're sitting in a board member's seat," Helms explained.
It was her love for children and interest in education that sparked Helms' interest in joining the school board. "I just retired from the school system after 31 years. I guess it was difficult to let go and I wanted to continue to make a difference in education."
When Shelby first joined the school board, his children were in school. Now his children are either in college or graduated from college.
"I wanted to be a part of the decision-making because members of the school board are more exposed to the facts than those who hear everything from the rumor mill. I wanted to be involved in the process," Shelby said.
Shelby's positions have varied quite a bit over the years. He has been president, vice president, treasurer and currently, he serves as member. Now he's ready to pass his torch onto someone else.
"Although I'm still interested in the district, there are other parents with children in school who are interested in joining the board and who would make good members."
School board members like Helms and Shelby spend countless hours -- without pay -- meeting and planning to ensure their school district is running the way the community wants.
"It's true we work hard without pay, but it's rewarding to know we've had a part in the education of the young people in the district," Shelby said.
Helms agreed the reward isn't financial. The real reward is knowing children gain the education they need to be the best people they can be, she said.
Occasionally board members will have to attend additional meetings than the regularly scheduled monthly meetings.
"In years where we interviewed candidates for the superintendent position, we worked every night for a week or two. In more calmer times, we might work a few hours a month," Shelby said.
Mandatory training by the Missouri's School Board Association is required for all school board members. Helms said they receive e-mails from the MSBA that keeps us updated on issues and legislation that impact education.
"Something that I think others don't realize about school board members is how much board members are involved in disciplinary action," Shelby noted. "We decide if students are expelled, and if a student is suspended -- and if the parents want to appeal to the board -- we have to choose if we want to be involved."
School board members have to be very objective in determining when a child is expelled or when hiring or firing personnel, Helms said.
The school board is responsible for hiring, making policy and for seeing to it the administrators execute the policies in a way the board intends, Shelby said.
Helms admitted board members do disagree on certain issues at times, but they work it out. "We talk it out and look at it. In the end the interest of the child is what causes the board to gel," Helms said.
Both Shelby and Helms said they love serving on the board and encourage others to run for school board in their area.
Shelby recommends new school board members to not come on with an agenda. Instead, he said, ask questions. Find out why or why not and remember to be a guide to the administration and an advocate to the public, he advised.
"Go for it!" Helms said. "Being on the school board is such an important job. If we don't educate our kids, we'll end up losing a generation."