Board-Savvy Superintendent

Recognizing Your Board for Better Relations

by Richard Egli

A wise consultant once said, “A happy board makes a superintendent’s life a lot easier, not easy necessarily, but easier.”

Although the name of the consultant is long gone from memory, the thought remains.

Put yourself in your school board members’ place for a moment. You give of your time, talent and brainpower. You get low or no pay. You receive calls about school business any time of the day or night, even to the point where such calls may interfere with your own business. You make tough decisions that affect people’s lives, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively.

Although walking on water isn’t in your job description as a board member, most people expect that of you.

Inexpensive Items
Don’t those thoughts make you wonder why anyone anywhere would ever want to serve on a school board today? But thank goodness they do serve. As superintendent, you can help to make their lives a little brighter (and probably make your life a little easier too) by giving them not only your appreciation, but some tangible, simple and relatively inexpensive forms of that appreciation.

“Inexpensive” is one of the keys to rewarding your board appropriately. It would be counterproductive to spend limited budget funds on board rewards. Most of these forms of appreciation can be done with vending-machine revenues or other funds that don’t impact the budget.

You could create a “wall of fame” featuring photos of your school board members. Put this in a prominent location and make the photos large enough to be seen easily. You also might list board goals for the year and/or some of the board accomplishments.

Board members may modestly say “it was a lousy shot” or “it looks like my driver’s license photo,” but deep down, they’ll enjoy seeing their photo in a place that makes them look good. You also could create the wall of fame on your school district’s website.

Another good way to support your board is to have business cards made for each member. The cards come in handy when a board member needs to share contact information with a constituent or when attending a professional conference with representatives of other boards. The cards lend credibility and professionalism to the position of board member.

Forms of Awards
Everybody likes an award. It might be one from a state or national association, or it might be one that you create just for board members.

If you choose to provide your own award, be creative. The award can be serious or humorous. How about a Teddy Bear Award for “bearing up under all the weight of school district responsibilities.” Even a service certificate in an inexpensive frame provides a tangible indication that a board member is appreciated.

You also might provide a gift certificate with the award. A gift certificate from a local business promotes goodwill and is a win-win situation for the business, the board member and the district.

Awards can take other forms as well. How about donating a book to a school library in the name of a board member? How about having students create a proclamation thanking board members for their service and then having students read their proclamation at a board meeting? Does your choir have a CD they’ve produced? Could you have the choir perform at a board meeting and then present a CD to each board member?

Providing some sort of uniform has recognition benefits. Depending on available funds, it would be great for all board members to have a sport coat with the district name or logo tastefully embroidered on the front. A unisex sweater, shirt or scarf provides something the board member can wear with pride. Other useful gifts include pens and umbrellas.

Send-Off Appreciation
While you’re thinking of recognition, do you give board members who have been “unelected” or are retiring a proper send-off?

Make the send-off an occasion for reflection and/or celebration. Consider holding a breakfast, luncheon or dinner. A long-time board member who retires might even be treated to a roast supported by ticket sales. This could turn the dinner (“roasts” almost always demand a dinner to provide enough time for a program) into a fundraiser for a school district foundation or a PTA or booster organization.

While retirees may be reluctant to be lionized, the thought of assisting a district organization with a fundraiser is virtually irresistible.

Whatever you do in creating such an event, permit some time for friends and colleagues to speak about the retiree and for the retiree to speak reflectively on his or her board experiences.

Beyond these ideas, let your own creativity take charge. Put yourself in the board member’s place and think about what would make you feel recognized and appreciated. Then turn your thoughts into the actions to demonstrate that recognition and appreciation.

Dick Egli, a former school administrator, is president of a communications and public relations firm, Egli and Associates, 615 W. Chicago Blvd., Tecumseh, MI 49286. E-mail: