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NSBA’s Gentzel on championing local school board leadership

As the leading advocate for public education, the National School Boards Association is successfully championing local school board leadership in the nation’s judicial system, in the halls of Congress, and in the court of public opinion.

That was the message that NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel recently shared with school leaders at NSBA’s 75th Annual Conference in Nashville, Tenn.

“We promised … we would transform [NSBA] from a traditional trade association into a more dynamic organization focused on service and advocacy.”

“We promised to mobilize our forces—school board members, state associations, and other friends of public education—to launch a more assertive effort to advocate on behalf of public education.”

“We promised to ‘push back’ against the continuous unfounded attacks on our public schools. And we promised to promote our vision for the future of public education in America.”

“I’m proud to say we’ve taken big steps this past year to make those promises a reality.”

A more visible presence in Congress and in the federal courts produced tangible results in strengthening the federal E-rate program, winning school boards relief from onerous federal mandates in school meal programs, and reversing some of the across-the-board budget cuts that hurt federal education programs.

Through a boots-on-the-ground approach in the halls of Congress, and a more proactive approach toward lobbying, “we are helping to shape policies as they are being formulated … not simply responding to policies after they are written.”

NSBA has also broken new ground in its advocacy efforts through its “Stand Up 4 Public Schools” national campaign.

With the help of such celebrities as basketball legend and business icon Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Jr., founder of the not-for-profit Khan Academy Sal Khan, and actor and television personality Montel Williams, the Stand Up campaign highlights the success of the nation’s public schools—and works to bolster public confidence in the institution of public education.

This campaign also was a direct challenge to naysayers of public education, Gentzel said.

“We want the voice of school boards to be heard and shape public opinion … and for state and federal policymakers to take notice.”

The success of these initiatives was a team effort, Gentzel emphasized.  He noted NSBA’s partnership with its state associations and the important grassroots advocacy work of individual school board members who participate in the Federal Relations Network (FRN), with FRN membership rising exponentially from 1,600 to 53,000 in just two short years.

He also noted NSBA’s strong commitment to member services. Working in partnership with state associations, for example, NSBA recently launched two initiatives to support school boards: an update of its school governance guide, the “Key Work of School Boards,” and a “Leading the Change Toolkit” to guide school boards’ efforts to turn around chronically low-performing schools.

Gentzel also took time to acknowledge that this year’s conference marked the 75th anniversary of NSBA’s founding, and he took note of NSBA’s decades-long contribution to public education.

The future will see NSBA continue its efforts on behalf of school board members, state associations, and schoolchildren, Gentzel promised.

“But none of it will be enough until we ensure that every child in America, of every description and in every zip code, is able to attend a great public school where they live. That is our mission … that’s what drives our work.”

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