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Doing Good in My Community

Donating money to charities is a great way to do good, but a more fulfilling way to donate may be with your time and your talents. We choose to do good in our communities by serving on our local school boards and we couldn’t be happier with the fulfillment we have received in return.

Lucas Barrett, Lucas: A close friend proposed that my skills acquired working in education, and recently as an internal auditor, would be a valuable asset to my local school district if I was willing to join the board of directors. I reluctantly accepted her proposal and ran for an open seat at the next annual meeting. I won my first election to a government position uncontested.

I knew what to expect from the board meetings based on past experience as a school business administrator. There would be discussions about budgets, standardized test results and curriculum changes; we would pass motions, sign orders, and approve contracts. Presenting an annual budget at the annual meeting to be voted on by my community peers was the most daunting of expectations.

I didn’t anticipate the meaningful connections to both my community and the teachers who care for my kids. I’ve watched student projects stem from pie-in-the-sky ideas to a chicken coop complete with an annual budget, safety protocols and a public relations campaign all created by fourth grade students. I’ve been thanked by folks in the grocery store and staff members in the school hallways.

Damon, KathyKathy: I was having Sunday dinner with a neighbor when he suggested I run for an open seat on the local high school board. I thought about it and called him the next day and said , “Sure, I’ll do it…when is the election?”  Tomorrow, he told me. “You’ll be a write-in candidate.”

96 write-in votes and 13 years later, I’m still serving on the school board. This work has given me great hope for the future of our town, state, country and world when I see all the great stuff that our teenagers do… from building houses in Haiti on their spring vacation, to being the first in their family to go to college with a goal of a PhD in bio-chemistry, to being softball state champions. It really does take a village to participate so our young people have the opportunity to grow into successful, contributing citizens. I’m proud to be part of that village.

Johnson, ValerieValerie: After sitting in our annual Town Meeting for several years in a row, and hearing the crickets that filled the room when it was time to nominate someone for School Director, I finally decided to step forward and answer the proverbial questions: “Why not me? Why not now?”

Serving on my local school board is a chance to serve my community – especially the kids. I support our school administrators, make strategic decisions about how to move the school forward (and respond to the various challenges that crop up), and sign all the paperwork that needs signing!

The various meetings are a place to hone my communication and persuasion skills. It’s also really great practice in dealing with difficult personalities. There’s an amazing thing about those difficult personalities though—we’re all there with the same objective: to achieve the best possible education and opportunities for our students.

There have been countless experiences that have benefited our professional development. We now know what it is like to be on the defendant side of a lawsuit, we’ve negotiated collective bargaining agreements with a powerful union, we’re navigating health care reform, and we’ve debriefed with law enforcement following a bomb scare. We’ve also observed amazing leadership from our principals and superintendents as they have led collaborative projects to update evaluation processes, overhaul report cards and build a preschool program.

The Vermont State Legislature is now asking us to merge the governance structure of four local school boards within two Supervisory Unions into one school board. Talk about a crash course in problem solving, conflict resolution and effective leadership!

Our commitment is much more than the “two meetings per month” estimate we expected at the beginning. We have merger meetings, negotiation meetings, committee meetings and community forums that take up many evenings every month; but we have found all of these commitments to be fulfilling opportunities to grow professionally. We recommend running for a local school board to anyone interested in obtaining leadership skills while providing a fulfilling service to your community. It is a great opportunity to live our values.

Lucas Barrett is the vice chair of the Bradford Elementary School Board, Kathy Damon is a member of the Oxbow High School Board, and Valerie Johnson is the chair of the Waits River Valley School Board. All three of us also sit on the Board of the Orange East Supervisory Union, for which Lucas is also the chair. Lucas, Kathy and Valerie all work at National Life Group.