From Salesperson to School Board Member

Photo: Alpha Housing
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My path to joining a school board was atypical. Upon moving to the Indy area, my wife and I became involved in a neighborhood organization. We helped promote the concept of reinvestment in the urban core, before it was truly a “hip” thing to do. Many in the community viewed revitalization with some skepticism.  We helped organize and promote activities like tree plantings, health clinic days, earth day cleanups, monthly meetings with the police department, and community visioning events. Through that experience over 15 years, we developed many relationships that invoked discussions about joining a school board.

Concurrently, twenty years ago, neighbors got together and decided to form a school that aimed to meet the needs of neighborhood children.  The school now has three campuses.  One of our children had been attending the school for a couple of years, and I was asked by some friends in the community to meet with board members and the school’s CEO.  Many of the board members were themselves in non-profit or education management, others in law, accounting, or H.R.  I shared the passion of the CEO for the community and the kids, and agreed to join.  This was not a paid position.  In fact, board members were expected to make significant financial contributions to the school and aid in fundraising efforts.

I was surprised early on with the lack of parental involvement and found a niche for working with parent groups.  I was able to empathize with their concerns, bring them to staff and summarize their praises and concerns.  The school also did a tremendous job regularly surveying parents.

While working with the board, we were able to improve the financial standing of the school and make targeted investments to improve educational outcomes.  Few will truly appreciate the nuance of school financing or the ever-increasing costs that educators face.  One of the positive aspects of working with a small school system was its ability to be nimble and make targeted improvements.  The school’s executive team spent thousands of hours analyzing student testing data, teacher input, and best practices to make continual improvements in student outcomes.

When it came to the school’s future, school culture was front and center.  As an urban school with a high percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, we found many students had circumstances that made learning difficult.  Food insecurity, homelessness, and past trauma are issues that directly impact the classroom.  The board set out to make lasting changes to support students, families, and classrooms, many of which come from SEL, which has been a lightning rod for criticism since 2020. While we argue today the role of psychology in the classroom, there was wide consensus at the time that teachers bore the burden of using restorative practices so that students were in a mindset to learn.  It is unfortunate that all of these tools have been politicized in our current public debate, but I believe that many of these tools will continue to stand on their merit and results.

While I’ve painted a rosy picture of working on a school board, it is not to say that conflict did not arise.  But as a group of professionals, we worked hard to have open, impassioned conversations in board meetings and one-on-one dialogue that was constructive and had children’s interests at heart.  

Society has been tested in many ways these past 18 months.  My hope for communities is that we are able to bring the temperature down and have a meaningful dialogue as teachers, parents, and community stakeholders.  We can have constructive, impassioned conversations with civility.  Perhaps we would all be well served to leave our conclusions at the door and instead be open to a world of nuance. No one policy is the end-all, be-all, involvement is. 

Ryan Wilson
Ryan Wilson is a former board member and current homeschool parent.  He has worked with Fortune 500 and small private companies in channel sales roles for 15 years.  He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Kayla (educator) and three children.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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