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Hardy: Educational Leadership

I’ve heard it said that Act 46 would undermine democracy and women’s role as elected officials in Vermont, but I’m convinced that Act 46 presents opportunities to expand democracy and elected women’s leadership. Of Vermont’s nearly fifteen hundred school board members, slightly more than half are women, as compared to roughly one in five selectboard members, one in three state senators, and fewer than half of state representatives. No other state for which data are easily accessible has such high percentages of women serving on school boards, but of these states, Vermont has one of the lowest percentages of women elected to municipal boards.

Because today’s school boards have been tasked with designing new school districts, many reorganization efforts are being led by women working to ensure both fair representation for voters and taxpayers, as well as effective and equitable education systems for students.

We should strive to ensure new school boards continue to feature women serving in both proportional numbers and leaderships positions. These new boards will oversee larger systems, budgets, and geographical areas, which would enable elected women access to larger spheres of influence and leadership.

With the transition to fewer school board members comes the opportunity for women to run for other elected positions, thus improving the overall gender parity of all elected officials in Vermont. Women trained for public office following service on school boards are well poised to run for and win seats on selectboards. Communities and women alike should seize this opportunity for experienced and equitable leadership.

Our system of fractured, hyper-local schools leads to inequality for both students and taxpayers, and its overly complex structure makes it difficult for people to access those in charge of school policy. It doesn’t support educational leadership, but rather leads to burnout and high turnover rates for the superintendents, principals, and school board members who are leading our schools.

While it’s true school governance can foster democracy, our public education system was built in part on the idea that education itself would foster democracy. When a system falters in achieving its primary purpose, becomes too complex to lead or access, or too costly to sustain, change is necessary.

We need women elected to public office in Vermont, and we need effective systems of governance. If we consciously and strategically embrace it, Act 46 provides an opportunity to expand women’s elected leadership, as well as the democratic benefits of improved education for students and equitable representation for citizens.

Ruth Hardy is Chair of the Middlebury ID#4 School Board and Co-Chair of the ACSU Charter Committee, working to unify the school boards of seven towns in Addison County. She is also the Executive Director of Emerge Vermont, an organization that recruits, trains, and inspires women to run for public office. She lives in East Middlebury with her husband and three children.
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