School Board Talk: The Art of Effective Communication


School Board Talk! provides simple and practical advice to help local board members develop and improve communication skills, survive in political office, and make a difference in education. The authors, Cheli Cerra and Ruth Jacoby, have identified over 50 situations and provided tips, strategies, and ...

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School Board Talk! provides simple and practical advice to help local board members develop and improve communication skills, survive in political office, and make a difference in education. The authors, Cheli Cerra and Ruth Jacoby, have identified over 50 situations and provided tips, strategies, and advice for handling each of them. Are you concerned about:

  • Casting the lone “no” vote and surviving?
  • Keeping your family in your fan club?
  • Building a school board team?
  • Handling constituent calls?
  • Conquering the memo mountain?

If you answered yes, then School Board Talk! is the book you need. The book provides both aspiring and veteran school board members practical answers to a host of complex school district situations.


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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"Before taking office and periodically thereafter, all boardmembers should read and re-read this book! This will make you abetter member while demonstrating to everyone you understand therole of the board and that of the superintendent and staff. It willalso assist you in succeeding in one of the most critical andcomplex—but satisfying—elected public offices."
—G. Holmes Braddock, former president of the Council of Great CitySchools and 38 year veteran School Board Member
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787979126
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 3/25/2005
  • Series: School Talk Series, #4
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 1,483,144
  • Product dimensions: 7.80 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

CHELI CERRA, M.Ed., is a school principal, former teacher, andmother of two. Under her leadership, her schools received an A+rating from the Florida Department of Education. Cerra has beenfeatured on over thirty radio shows around the country as well asin Women's Day magazine.

RUTH JACOBY, Ed.D., is the founding principal of the SomersetAcademy charter schools for grades preK–11, which alsoreceived an A+ rating. She has more than thirty years' experienceas an administrator and educator in traditional public, private,and charter schools. Both Jacoby and Cerra are public speakers andhave spoken at state and national conferences.

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Read an Excerpt

School Board Talk!

By Cheli Cerra

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-7912-0

Chapter One

Constituents' Capers: Handling Those Special Cases

"There are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves." Albert Guinon

Snapshot #45:

The Angry Public Speaker

Blarney is a retired salesman who is making a career of appearing before the school board at its regular meetings and telling the members just how angry he feels about the job they are doing. Blarney doesn't mince words. He criticizes the superintendent, vilifies the board members, and accuses them of being ill-informed, ill-advised, and purveyors of ill-conceived ideas. Blarney holds nothing back as he snarls his way through his allotted speaking time. Much of what Blarney says is incorrect, but interspersed in his angry rhetoric are some plausible ideas and accurate information. The good stuff, however, is drowned in the delivery system. What should you do?


Accusations, particularly when they are unfounded, are hard to take. They seem to clamor out for defensive responses. No one likes to be publicly attacked or insulted. It is only natural to want to respond to Blarney's antagonistic public comments, but it's not a good idea. Responding to Blarney's charges is like going to war with the newspaper. The paper never runs out of ink; Blarney will never run out of anger. Trying to explain things to him means engaging him in a conversation that he will be happy to continue as long as you give him the opportunity. A better way is to let Blarney say what he has to say and then go on to the next speaker. This is truly a time when "Silence is Golden."

Snapshot #46:

The Loyal Supporter

Karl is the owner of the area's largest cleaning and maintenance company. He also was one of your staunchest campaign supporters. He raised funds for you, asked his employees to distribute your campaign signs, and made phone calls on your behalf. Now, he has approached you for support to get the school district to hire his company to clean and maintain your schools instead of using in-house school system employees. You want to support your supporters. You want them to know you appreciated their help in the past and may want it again in the future. You also want them to know their help doesn't mean they can "buy" your vote. What should you do?


Tell Karl that you will look at his proposal to consider what is reasonable and feasible, and possibly bring an item to the board so it can direct the superintendent to consider doing a feasibility study that looks at the pros and cons of contracting for custodial and maintenance services versus keeping it in-house. Don't make any promises. When Karl and other supporters seek "compensation" for their campaign help, keep in mind that, to be an effective school board member, you cannot perpetually be eyeing the next election. Tomorrow brings a different day, a different issue, and the potential for a different response.

Snapshot #47:

The Lobbyist Seeks a Payback

At a chamber of commerce dinner recognizing outstanding leaders in town, you are seated next to a lobbyist who contributed to your election campaign. Between bites of the familiar rubber chicken, the lobbyist talks nonstop about a client he has who is trying to do business with the school system. You can't seem to steer the conversation in another direction, even though you try. What should you do?


Explain to the lobbyist that the proper move for him to make would be to talk to the superintendent and appropriate staff and that you would be happy to alert both to expect his call. Suggest he send you some written material about his client so you can be more informed. To politely end the conversation, sacrifice the rubber chicken, get out of your chair, and circulate throughout the room. Work the room diligently, going from table to table, shaking hands, and chatting with people. This action will have multi-benefits: it gets you away from your unwanted dinner companion; it impresses people with your sincerity as you demonstrate that, even though the campaign is over, you still like to stop and talk to them; it helps with personal weight control because it will prevent you from overeating.

Snapshot #48:

The Chronic Complainer

Cranky constituents are a challenge. Abigail is a retired nurse with time on her hands and complaints on her mind. Her passion is to whine about the school system and she is an expert at it. She stores her complaints in mental torpedo tubes. While you are busy using your school board knowledge to try and deflect one complaint, she is mentally getting ready to fire the next one. Abigail's view of the school system is that: it has too many administrators; the students don't need computer-books are better; there's no discipline in schools; the superintendent's salary is too high; her tax dollars are being wasted; the Japanese score higher than Americans in every subject. According to Abigail, when she went to school, everything was better, cheaper, and safer. Her memory of school mirrors Garrison Keillor's famous and fictitious "Lake Wobegon," where all the teachers have master's degrees and all the children are above average. It's almost impossible to win the complaint war with Abigail or other chronic education bashers by using logical, rational explanations based on your knowledge as a school board member. What should you do?


Try the up-front and personal approach. It's been years since Abigail was inside a public school. She has no idea of what goes on: the amount of learning that takes place; the complexities of the projects students produce; the dedication of the staff; the wealth of material in the curriculum. Her view of school largely is based on some negative media story that appeared in yesterday's newspaper. Offer Abigail a "walk on the wild side." Take her by the hand to visit some schools. If necessary, entice her with the offer of a free breakfast or lunch to get her inside the school. Try to arrange for Abigail to attend a school play or student concert. Perhaps some of her peers will attend with her. Student talent never ceases to amaze audiences. At the very most, you may turn Abigail into one of the school district's major supporters. At the very least, she may stop lauding the Japanese schools, which she never has visited either.


Excerpted from School Board Talk! by Cheli Cerra Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

How to Use This Book.

Prelude: The Genesis of School Boards Introduction.

Chapter One: Board Panache.

Chapter Two: Peer Points: Building Board Relationships.

Chapter Three: Heart Healthy Relationships: Keeping Families andFriends Close.

Chapter Four: The Parent Connection.

Chapter Five: Staff Stuff: Working With Principals,Administrators, and Teachers.

Chapter Six: Money Matters: Dealing With Budget Decisions.

Chapter Seven: Constituents’ Capers: Handling ThoseSpecial Cases.

Chapter Eight: Community Challenges: Keeping Your Hometown onYour Side.


Share Your Snapshots.

Appendix A: Toolkit for Success.

Appendix B: Acronyms: Interpreting School Lingo.

Appendix C: Bringing the Art of Communication to You.

About the Authors.

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