OSBA virtual conferences offer focus and foundations
Monday, July 12, 2021
OSBA’s first two virtual summer conferences shed light on what it means to be a school board member, with primarily a focus on students’ needs.
“Act like adults; think about kids,” OSBA Board President Maureen Wolf told school board members in opening remarks Friday and Saturday. Wolf is a Northwest Regional Education Service District board member.
This year, OSBA replaced its traditional Summer Board Conference in Bend with four separate virtual conferences, July 9-10 and July 23-24. OSBA opted for online meetings because staff had to plan the conferences months ago when it was impossible to predict where Oregon’s COVID-19 rules might stand.
Registration is still open for the July 23 “Board Leadership and Administrative Professionals Workshop” and the July 24 “Raising the Equity Question” conferences.
On Friday, nearly 200 attendees – many of them newly elected in May – learned about “School Board Essentials.” OSBA staff introduced collaborative governance ideas and the importance of creating a board culture that leads to student success. OSBA staff delivered policy and procedural foundations for board work and let board members know about OSBA’s ample support and services.
More than 70 people registered for Saturday’s “Empowering Student Voices.” Expanding on a popular session from the 2020 Annual Convention, OSBA partnered with REAP Inc. to give students a chance to share their experiences. REAP is a Portland-based multicultural youth leadership program that partners with school districts and strives to elevate young voices.
Alejandra Lopez Nestor of Warrenton High School on the northern coast, a student working with REAP, said school boards should be talking to the people whose lives are affected.
“When school boards make decisions, they directly impact students, but a lot of the times us as students, we are not really involved in the decisions,” she said in a keynote address.
In a REAP-led session, Juan David Alonso Garcia of Liberty High School in Hillsboro said it was important for school board members to find out from students which programs were really helping them and support those.
Saturday’s topics included engaging students in meaningful ways, building safe spaces for students and equity efforts from student perspectives. Equity was a common theme for both days as school leaders grappled with increased racism awareness and the disparities laid bare by the pandemic.
Input from young people, especially students from historically underserved groups, has helped the Corvallis School District’s decision-making process, said Board Chair Sami Al-Abdrabbuh.
“Our student voices are valuable,” said Al-Abdrabbuh, the president of the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus.
School board members said Saturday’s session inspired them to look for more ways to engage with students in their districts. They also said they would like more support from OSBA for student engagement, and OSBA Executive Director Jim Green indicated the association would be exploring how to increase student participation in its work.
Tigard-Tualatin School Board student representative Henry Taylor-Goalby said boards need to interact with more than just their student representatives.
“We don’t want the same old students with the same ideas to come forward and be the only students school boards are hearing,” he said.
Tigard-Tualatin School Board student representative Mahathi Sridhar challenged school board members to follow through on the day’s enthusiasm for talking with students.
“We know that all the attendees’ hearts are in the right place and want to do right by us, but it’s such an easy thing to let slip,” she said.