In 2021, hundreds of new school board members were elected across the state and began their four year term. This December marks the one year anniversary for those new board members. I reached out to a number of newly elected board members and asked them to share some of their experiences since taking office.
Today, we’re spotlighting Stacey Whomsley. Whomsley is a school board director serving the West Chester Area School District in Chester County.
1. What have you enjoyed the most about being a school board director?
Getting to know students from all over the district, and knowing the decisions I make are grounded in trying to give them the best possible experience with public education.
2. What surprised you the most when you joined the board?
That the majority of information we have as board members is available for the public, but it takes time to understand the documents in the proper context. In our district, committee meetings are where we do the real work and most people do not attend or watch those meetings. Most public participation occurs at the general board meetings, but we do not review or discuss many topics there as we pass most things via consent agenda since the public discussion occurred at committee.
There are exceptions to that, such as the annual budget, but our community would significantly benefit from increased engagement at committee meetings.
3. What do you like the least about being a school board member?
That we do not dialogue with the public. Our board used to allow Q&A during committee meetings, but now public comments are only allowed at the beginning of the meeting. This restricts the community from asking clarifying questions during the course of the committee meetings which is where the bulk of our work happens as board members. I would like to see us go back to the more informal format because it would increase community engagement.
4. How much time do you spend monthly on board duties?
On average, 20–25 hours per month. Some months it can be as high as 40 hours if there are significant events (like graduation), and others (like July) as few as 10 hours. Only about 10 hours of that is public meetings, the rest is executive sessions, meeting preparation, emails, talking to concerned community members, and attending events in the district.
5. Do you have school-age children?
Yes, one in elementary and one in secondary.
6. If yes, do they attend the district where you serve?
Not currently, but they did when I began my campaign.
7. Knowing what you know now, would you have still run for office last year?
8. Do you think you will run again when your term is over?
I am not sure yet.
9. Were you welcomed to the board by other board members?
I would say I was tolerated. The election was very contentious in our district, with three of four incumbents being replaced by new board directors including myself. I am the lone “conservative” from that election cycle and there were assumptions made about me, and how I would engage, as a result of the campaign propaganda from my opponents.
I have 20+ years of corporate experience, am recognized yearly as a top performer in my company, and work every day to build bridges of communication and collaboration. I had every confidence that if I brought the same level of commitment, professionalism and consistency to my board position that I do to my day job, I would be successful. We had some very difficult meetings this year, and there were frustrations when I would not vote in lock step with my peers, but I kept my focus on holding our district and the administration accountable for achieving excellence in how we serve our students and our community. As a result, we actually rewrote our annual board goals to be SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound). This was a significant accomplishment, as it will help us not only excel as a board, but holds our district administration accountable to measurable outcomes rather than aspirational outcomes.
Our alignment in that effort was a significant signal in a shift to how we operate as a board, and as a district. We have some seasoned board members who bring invaluable history and expertise to the table, but every “board of directors” needs a fresh perspective from time to time. I think I was able to bring that perspective this year — both from my corporate experience but also as a mom of school-aged children with special education needs — and am excited to see how it continues to evolve over the remainder of my term.
10. How much communication do you have with your constituents?
I probably talk to someone in the community daily. In terms of meeting “new” constituents, I typically hear from two to three a month.
11. Anything else you would like to share?
I encourage anyone who feels called to serve their community to seriously consider being a public school board director. This may be one of the most important jobs in each community, and we need people from various backgrounds and areas of expertise.
I especially encourage those with school-age children to consider it, because I think it makes a significant difference when you live with the results of your decisions. Not to say that those without children, or those past their child-rearing years, cannot be effective. Rather, I think having the “parent” point of view is something lacking in most boards, and the issues facing our children today are very different from the issues of our youth, or even the youth of 10 years ago. The cycle of change only gets quicker with each generation and it’s critical we have board directors who understand both the intended AND unintended consequences of our decisions as a school board, and as a school district.
Beth Ann Rosica holds a Ph.D. in Education and has dedicated her career advocating on behalf of underserved children and families. She owns a consulting business and lives with her family in West Chester, Pa.