February 06, 2002 2 min read

Schooling School Boards

A cadre of newly elected school board members will receive intensive tutorials on education policy and school improvement prior to their service, under an initiative by the Broad Foundation.

The Los Angeles-based philanthropy announced last week that it will spend $800,000 to develop the Broad Institute for School Boards, said Donald R. McAdams, a former Houston school board member who will serve as the initiative’s project manager. He also is the president of the Houston-based Center for Reform of School Systems, to which the grant was given.

The aim is to help those governing the nation’s large school districts gain their footing in a complicated world filled with confusing jargon, sophisticated theories, and political posturing, Mr. McAdams said.

“The board is the buckle that holds everything together,” he said. “If high-performing school districts are the key to bringing to scale good schools in urban America, then reform of boards ... is key to higher- performing school districts.”

Twenty-five rookies, chosen from a pool of newcomers slated to begin work in the nation’s 100 largest school districts, will be invited to attend a weeklong retreat at the Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo., in July, he said. There, they will listen to and talk with the nation’s top scholars, superintendents, and policymakers about issues in education.

Mr. McAdams knows from experience how helpful such a seminar will be—he served for 12 years on the Houston board.

“I came to the board as someone reasonably well educated ... and I did not have a clue,” he said. “I had a vision and good instincts, but I would say that it took me several years to figure out which end was up.”

The effort is thought to be one of the first of its kind for school board members in big districts and an important advancement for the education community, said Katrina Kelley, the director of the Council of Urban Boards of Education, a division of the Alexandria, Va.- based National School Boards Association.

Training is “desperately needed,” Ms. Kelley said, because such boards are “different kinds of animals” from those governing smaller districts. Such jobs are extremely political, she said, and require the handling of budgets as big as those at many corporations.

The Broad Foundation provides funding for several other education initiatives and supports coverage of leadership issues by Education Week.

—Julie Blair

A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2002 edition of Education Week