Until recently, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) was the only game in town to support school directors across the state. Founded almost 130 years ago, they serve as the “go-to” group for training, policy development, and legislative advocacy. “As the first school boards association in the nation, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) has provided services, advocacy and counsel to inform and engage the local leaderships of Pennsylvania’s public schools since 1895.”

According to their website, school district boards join as an entire entity, and almost all districts in the state are currently members. “Pennsylvania’s 4,500 school directors become members by virtue of election to their local board — the board joins as a whole. Membership in PSBA is by school district or other eligible local education agency, such as an intermediate unit, career and technical center, or community college. Over the past several decades, voluntary membership by traditional public school entities has been nearly 100%.”

The PSBA lists multiple legislative priorities, including charter school reform, significant increases to school funding, opposition to school choice, and Right to Know law reform.

Now, however, the PSBA may have some competition. 

A current school director in the Pine-Richland School District recently launched the Pennsylvania School Directors Coalition (PSDC), a newly formed 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization. According to their website, the organization “provides a much-needed resource for elected school directors throughout Pennsylvania. PSDC offers several services designed to support school board members in promoting common sense education policies both locally and statewide, improving academic achievement, and unlocking opportunities for all of Pennsylvania’s children.”

Founder and President, Christina Brussalis, was elected a School Director in 2021. When asked why she felt the need to start the organization, she said, “there were many things that I wish I would have learned earlier during my time as a school board director. Our desire is to help lessen the learning curve for school directors and to make sure that all school directors across the Commonwealth can network with peers and access a variety of resources to help them do their jobs more effectively.”

Act 55, enacted in 2017, requires all school directors to complete an initial four hours of training per year and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is the sole authority to approve training providers. According to a PDE representative, PSBA is currently the only statewide provider approved for Act 55 training. However, that may soon change as the newly formed PSDC intends to submit an application to PDE to become an approved statewide training provider.

When asked how PSDC differs from PSBA, Brussalis responded, “Pennsylvania is a big state, and we face a number of challenges and opportunities in public education that necessitate our best conversations and our best thinking. No one organization or group should have a monopoly of ideas or even solutions. At the heart of PSDC’s approach is the belief that when school boards understand their role and apply their authority, education can be improved. Pennsylvania schools are as diverse as the communities that they serve; there is no one size fits all solution to the problems that they face. Therefore, we believe that by empowering school board members with the tools and knowledge necessary to govern effectively, we can promote academic excellence across the Commonwealth and ensure the brightest futures for all of our students.”

The organization is currently providing school director training and professional development through a “School Board Boot Camp,” in addition to networking opportunities at in-person and virtual events, advocacy, model policy, policy review, and legal services. Sessions are currently planned to address legal basics, financial oversight, curriculum and student achievement, collective bargaining, and superintendent selection and evaluation.

When asked about the cost for training and membership, Brussalis responded, “currently, our School Board Boot Camp sessions are free to any elected or appointed school director in Pennsylvania. As we grow and add to our menu of services, this model will likely change but our goal is to serve both school boards and individual school directors and to make our offerings affordable and available to everyone.”

According to the founder and president, the organization is funded through the “generosity of donors who believe in our mission and a lot of volunteer time.” 

The organization welcomes all board members to join. “We believe that all school directors, regardless of political viewpoint or ideology, will find PSDC a valuable partner. We want all school directors to feel confident in their role and responsibility to oversee school districts and to advance educational opportunities for Pennsylvania’s most precious resource: our children.”

Since launching the organization in late December 2023, Brussalis reports high attendance at the Boot Camp sessions. We have been really thrilled by the welcome we’ve received from school directors across the Commonwealth and how well attended our trainings have been right from the start, proving that there is a strong need for a resource like PSDC in Pennsylvania.”

Given the current state of education in Pennsylvania, a fresh perspective for school directors may help turn around the numerous failing districts across the state. As entrepreneur Scott Belsky in his book, Making Ideas Happen, states, “competition forces creativity and drives innovation.”

Many districts in the Commonwealth are failing our students, and we cannot continue with business as usual. The PSBA has held a monopoly on the training and support to school directors for well over a hundred years. Perhaps PSDC will serve as the catalyst to usher in innovative and creative solutions to address these challenges.

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at barosica@broadandliberty.com.

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