Board members offer insight into job
Sitting representatives share their thoughts on position, qualities needed to serve
Last updated 2/23/2021 at 11:34am | View PDF
Voters will head to the polls Tuesday, April 6, to choose new board members for Community Consolidated District 181, Hinsdale High School District 86 and the Hinsdale Public Library.
To help them make their decisions, The Hinsdalean reached out to current board members to ask them to describe what the job entails.
Sarah Jakobsen said she didn’t have a true sense for the complexity of school district finances before her election to the District 181 Board in 2019.
She does now.
“I was not as engaged as a citizen in what it took to keep the buildings up and running in a responsible way,” Jakobsen said, noting she’s also been struck by the amount of resources gifted by school PTOs and the District 181 Foundation.
Being a fiscal steward is just one dimension of a board member’s job description, of course. The many duties the board is tasked with include working with the department of learning on selecting and launching new curriculum and making decisions on district administrative personnel.
“You hit every part of the district,” she said. “It’s a lot of exposure to the underbelly of the district and what runs the district, and it’s really been eye-opening.”
Jakobsen also cited a deepened understanding “for all of the work that the teachers do on a daily basis.” As a mom of three, she witnesses at home the fruit of initiatives set in motion by the board.
“I get to see the direct impact of my work as a board member with the S.T.E.M. labs,” she said by way of example. “I got to see the kids come home and tell me what they did.”
She suggested the time commitment required has taken some adjustment. The public board meetings are just one element of the workload that members need to take on to stay fully abreast of the issues.
“It’s reading through emails and researching issues, because I don’t want to just accept what I’m told,” she said.
The pandemic has added a couple of layers to that homework load.
“I read the CDC website and DuPage County Health Department website every day and look at the trends,” she said.
A supportive family helps.
“It’s a significant expenditure of time,” she said. “If you are married, make sure that your spouse in on board with this.”
Jakobsen said a willingness to listen and learn will serve a board member well.
“Patience and keeping an open mind have the two most important attributes,” she commented. “The district has a wide variety of opinions.
“I think you can only grow from feedback, both positive and negative.”
Even with four years of experience serving on the Gower Elementary District 62 board, Cynthia Hanson found she still had things to learn when she was elected to serve on the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board in 2019.
“I think that was another learning curve I needed to adjust to,” Hanson said of the complexities of overseeing operations of two high schools in a large geographic area.
Serving on a school board involves a significant time commitment, Hanson said. In addition to attending board meetings twice a month, she also sits on three committees, serving as chair of one.
“I feel like I’m constantly preparing, because if it’s not for the actual meeting that happens twice a month, it’s the other committee meetings,” she said.
She also receives emails and an occasional phone call from community members who want to weigh in on an issue.
“That is also ongoing,” she said. “It seems like there’s always a spectrum of opinions.”
Being able to represent that range of opinions and to work with colleagues at the board table are two important skills board members need, she opined.
“It really helps to have somebody who can be open-minded and understand there are a wide range of needs and opinions in the district,” Hanson said.
The ability to listen, synthesize and research are important. Humility is also key.
“You’re not going to come in and have all of the answers,” she said.
But all the time she invests in carefully considering decisions is worth it, she said.
“I find it rewarding to be entrusted with that, because I find it is so important, and I have enjoyed working with people who are also able to share their opinions and be open-minded,” Hanson said. “I’ve had a wonderful experience working on both my boards.”
Hinsdale Public Library
Susan Blumberg-Kason said it took time to fully get her bearings as a Hinsdale Public Library Board member.
“I think it takes two years to really understand all the workings of the library, what was important, learning about different things,” Blumberg-Kason said.
That included an education on how to develop a budget.
“Learning about the budgeting process was new for me and interesting,” she remarked. “I have a new appreciation for people who deal with municipal budgets.”
She also said finding a niche — in her case leading the art committee — enhanced her engagement.
“That was one of the reasons I wanted to run,” she said of throwing her hat in the ring four year ago. “It’s one of the few committees that has community members on it, working with artists and art teachers and former board members.”
Unfortunately the pandemic has disrupted the committee’s vision for 2020 and 2021, and Blumberg-Kason will be stepping down after her term ends in April. But dealing with unforeseen events is part of the landscape.
“It’s taught me a lot of patience, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said. “You have to be willing to adapt. The library had to think about the whole community and who was vulnerable.
“Flexibility it crucial in this job, and it’s really hard to change sometimes,” she continued. “Everyone comes with a different background, and you can’t be shy about sharing your background and your perspective. We’re all there for different reasons.”
Making space for fresh perspectives keeps a library vibrant and is a leading reason she is serving only one term.
“Bringing in new ideas is always beneficial,” she said.