She Votes Illinois School Board Educational Series

Part II: You’ve Been Elected to the School Board! Now what?

Municipal elections were held across the state on April 2, 2019 and there were a number of female candidates running for their district school boards. These important local elections affected 852 school districts in Illinois and over two million students.

The results are in and now the work begins! In Part II of our School Board Educational Series, She Votes Illinois asked female candidates and school board members questions about their role on the school board to help you gain insight, and along with community members, understand the board’s impact on our communities.

(You can find Part I of our series here.)

SVI: What made you run for school board?

School Board Member, District U-46 in Elgin, Kane County: I believe in the value of public education for a community, and I am distressed at how public education is often devalued in our society — both at the state and federal level. For years, the state of Illinois has underfunded education, and the funding that was secured was distributed under one of the most inequitable calculations in this country. Local school boards need to have members that will advocate for public education. I feel as though advocacy is one of my primary responsibilities.

LeeAnn, School Board Member, District 215 near Calumet City, Cook County: I was asked to run by the teachers. I had 1 student enrolled with 3 on the way. There was significant dissatisfaction with the district policies at the time. Upon winning, our slate was able to shift the labor-management dynamic from that of an adversarial nature to one based on mutual respect and collaboration. This had a transformative effect on our schools.

Carlee, newly elected School Board Member, District 95 in Carbondale, Jackson County: I want to ensure that respect is flowing in all directions within District 95 and continues to flow in all directions.

Jill, newly elected School Board Member, District 219 in Niles, Cook County: I love my community. Niles Township is a really wonderful place to live and I am dedicated to making sure we do the best we can for our residents. I decided to run for school board because I know that I can be a voice for our community. I am dedicated to pushing us further to ensure that we are doing everything we can to give each of our 4500+ students what they need to thrive, our teaching staff the resources they need to feel appreciated and supported, and our community the information they need to feel like informed and proud stakeholders.

SVI: What challenges might a female candidate experience?

Carlee, newly elected School Board Member, District 95 in Carbondale, Jackson County: Some people will assume that I have not had board experience because I’m a teacher and social worker. However, I’m also a community organizer who has previously sat on a board, has started several committees all over southern Illinois, and belong to several organizations and coalitions. I have plenty of experience.

Jill, newly elected School Board Member, District 219 in Niles, Cook County: More than once I’ve been asked by white men why I am qualified for this position. I’ve been given surprised looks when I say that I have 3 young children. And to be honest, I hesitated to run because traditionally women have been pushed to run for school board as a way to keep them from running for other offices. I’ve been grilled unfairly by men, talked down to, and scolded for things that I’m sure they wouldn’t dare bring up to their male colleagues. And it’s only pushed me harder to win this election. I’ve never backed down from their questions and I’m not intimidated by them. Women are ready to lead, and we’re not going anywhere.

SVI: What is the best advice you can give someone who is thinking of running for school board?

Carlee, newly elected School Board Member, District 95 in Carbondale, Jackson County: Think about why you are running. Are you doing this to help the kids in your community? If the answer is no, then think about what you have to offer. Where else might your talents be best served?

LeeAnn, School Board Member, District 215 near Calumet City, Cook County: Ask questions. I personally see our district as an equidistant triangle as opposed to an Isosceles triangle. The board should not be aligned with the administration or labor. It should be independent. Altogether too often, boards automatically align with the administration and that creates this adversarial labor management dynamic.

School Board Member, District U-46 in Elgin, Kane County: Get out into the community as much as possible, and be willing to listen. School board members cannot solve problems directly, but must build a relationship with community members and with the superintendent to effect change or to solve problems. Educate yourself on the Illinois School Code, school funding, and education laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), Title I, and Title IX.

Jill, newly elected School Board Member, District 219 in Niles, Cook County: Surround yourself with support. I could not do this without my support system. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a campaign team. That means your best friend that you can call at any time of day to vent, or another candidate who really gets it and understands your frustrations, that means a supportive friend or family member who’s standing by for your super excited phone call when someone says that they plan to vote for you. There’s nothing in the world like being surrounded by supported women.

SVI: What do you wish you had known before you had been elected to the school board?

LeeAnn, School Board Member, District 215 near Calumet City, Cook County: I wish I knew how much time would be required in order to do the job properly.

School Board Member, District U-46 in Elgin, Kane County: The inability to take quick action or solve any problem quickly or easily. A couple of things hamper school boards. First, by law, school boards can only take action at public meetings. Second, the board’s role is governance, not management. Board members do not have any authority on their own, nor do they have the authority collectively to take action at a school. Our intent must be delegated to the superintendent and staff for action.

SVI: What can a newly elected school board member expect in their first year?

School Board Member, District U-46 in Elgin, Kane County: First year board member experiences really depend on the size of the district, which varies greatly across the state. Illinois has districts that are only one or two schools, and districts with dozens of schools. I come from a very large district; even though I knew a lot of the mechanisms behind public school systems, my first year was very much a learning year. I think that for most board members, it takes a year to really understand the cycle of budgets, contracts, and assessments.

LeeAnn, School Board Member, District 215 near Calumet City, Cook County: They can expect to be overwhelmed with all of the new information. They will learn that they are just one member of a 7 member body. They must work together, learn how to find common ground on issues and compromise in order to get things done.

SVI: What do community members expect from their school board?

Jessica, Parent, District 113 in Swansea, St. Clair County: The school board should ensure that the children in their community have everything necessary to achieve success.

Amy, Teacher, District 170 in Bushnell, McDonough County: It is important for the school board to understand the needs of the community, students, and staff that they serve and put forth policies that are fair, balanced and in the best interest of the community, school, students, and staff, even when it is not popular. It needs to make sure that all the wheels get greased, not just the squeaky ones.

Sital, Parent, District 157c in Frankfort, Will County: The most important function of the school board is to serve the interests of the children. I have three children in this school district and am invested in providing them with the tools and knowledge to navigate their futures.

Maya, Student, District 185 in Macomb, McDonough County: Last year, I spoke to the school board at one of their meetings. Theoretically, this is a good way for them to understand my perspective and needs. Overall, the school board should be helpful to the students. To ensure this, the voting of board members is important.

Representation Matters!

As we see more women running for office, doors are opening and we’re getting a seat at the table at every level of government. And that’s important. We’ll leave you with these final thoughts from newly elected school board member Jill in Niles Township District 219, This cycle has been a game changer for my community. Normally these down ballot races don’t get much attention. And that’s because for the most part, the seats have been appointed or gone uncontested. This cycle isn’t like that, however. We have contested races in areas in school board and parks board, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s beautiful because it’s democracy but also because it’s given us the chance to express to so many more people how important these elected offices are. We are running for positions that have a direct impact on your everyday life. We’re making decisions that involve your tax dollars and the schools your children attend every day. It’s been wonderful to see so many people interested and I hope it stays that way. And I’d love to let future candidates know that if they think campaigning is hard, they’re right. It really is. But what you learn from it, the people you meet from it, make every hard day completely worth it.”