We all know the top ballot item for November: who would be President of the United States.
Most of us know the next-level ballot items: who would be our Senators, Congressional Representatives, and Governors.
Many of us even know the third-level ballot items: state legislators and ballot questions.
But what about those smaller offices? Those sometimes odd and idiosyncratic local offices with names like Sheriff, Freeholder, Ombudsman, Comptroller, and School Board?
All of these offices, though they lack the limelight of our national and state representatives, have a huge impact on our daily lives regardless of whether we live in one of America’s biggest cities or one of its smallest towns.
Take a small, suburban Philadelphia town as a microcosm for communities all across the country—a town with one high school, one middle school, and a handful of elementary schools. A school district this size doesn’t often make front page news, certainly not in the shadows of a large and perpetually controversial school district just across the river.
But the lack of news reporting belies the very real importance of the school board elections and ballot initiatives in this town that have very real consequences for the children and families here.
In November 2019, the community voted on a ballot initiative to increase property taxes in a graduated way. The new resources were earmarked to ensure that all elementary schools got mental health and social-emotional learning (SEL), school counselors, and on-site mental health resources for families at the local high school. Already, even in the 2020 Covid school year, the community is seeing the benefits of this ballot initiative. Students are participating in daily mental health check-ins and connecting with their school counselors.
This year, with the news that the town’s superintendent will be retiring, the local school board elections take on even greater import. Whoever our new local school board members are, they will be charged with recruiting and hiring the future leader of the town’s schools.
If ever there was a time when the importance of school district leadership was made clear, it is now. Think of how districts across the country have rolled out remote learning, hybrid learning, laptop pickups, technological resources, professional development, and balancing the health and safety of students, families, and teachers. This November, those names on the bottom of the ballot are the people who, if elected, will continue making these and many more decisions on behalf of our children.
As is often said, all politics is local, so while we are rightly focused on ensuring our votes count at the top of the ballot, we must equally ensure that we educate ourselves and advocate for the candidates and issues at the bottom of the ballot as well.
Remember to #VoteLocal and #GetEducated!
Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, serving Philadelphia and Camden, and a communications activist at Education Post. Prior, he was the twelfth-grade world literature and Advanced Placement literature teacher at Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus, where he taught students for eight years—including the school's first eight graduating ...