Antioch School Trustee writes of vacancy on Board, qualities he’s looking for in applicants

Dear Editor:

The Antioch School Board will soon announce its application procedure for appointment to the Trusteeship position generated by Barbara Cowan’s move to Oregon. The Board, as a whole, will decide on the tactical selection process particulars. Speaking, then, only for myself, kindly allow for some ruminations on a Trustee’s ideal constitution.

I’ve been asked how much an educational background benefits a Board Trustee. Truth be, it sometimes helps, often hurts. One can know too much, which can lead to micro-managing. By contrast, an enlightened trustee hires the best Superintendent possible, sets a clear vision with accountable benchmarks, and then gets out of the way.

The best Trustees simply have strong communication and bridge-building skills, and a seasoned touch. They can seamlessly switch from publicly praising to, when needed, privately and diplomatically prodding. Being transparent, accountable, fiscally sober and hard-working can not be overstated, as well.

For my two cents, Trustees also need good-old fashioned common sense, with an appreciation of tough love. Yes, we need adopt creative, positive behavioral interventions but we can’t abandon fair but strict, no-nonsense, behavioral standards if our schools and society are not going to go to hell in a hand basket. If we don’t curb systemic behavioral outbursts, and all the attendant distraction, we will continually spin our wheel on attaining academic improvement.

School Board is the retail world of politics and governance; it’s up close and personal. As such, it’s not for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. It calls for unending give and take with the sometimes clashing interests of students, parents, teachers, Superintendent, administrators, community leaders and colleagues.

As you can guess, though nobody has to go along, in this hurly-burly arena it helps to get along. Pure ideology simply counts for naught if nothing tangible gets done in the crucible of compromise and pursuit of the Golden Mean.

Superintendents, administrators, union leaders and fellow trustees come and go with elections, retirements and moves. By freely adapting to each new configuration you can maximize complimentary strengths and leverage mutual goals. We quickly learn that there are no permanent alliances, just permanent interests. It’s inevitable that we fall to the short end of some 3-2 or 4-1 votes, but we endure. Cycles come and go and even a dissenting voice has some resounding long-term value.

Fact is, not everyone will be on our preferred dance card, philosophically or temperamentally. We must, though, tango with the partners we have.

I, for one, wish we could harken back to a more civil political climate typified by Democrat Majority Whip Hubert Humphrey and Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen retiring from a day’s vigorous debates to congenially tipping a few cold beers together.

Contrast this to the bitter enmity and hardened partisan divisiveness choking the corridors of power today.

Of late, the word loyalty surfaced. I welcome the discussion because loyalty is one of the enduring themes of man’s perennial philosophy. Nevertheless, I caution against blind loyalty at the expense of overarching principle or managing the collective good.

The three dicta of wise governance remain; balance, balance, balance. School Board cries for the amicable, not angry; the consensus builder, not partisan; the results-driven principled, not ideologue.

Granted, a tall order, but it can’t hurt to hope we get King Solomon, or an aspiring Solomon, to, pray tell, apply for the appointment.

Walter Ruehlig

Trustee, Antioch Unified School District

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