School boards are an important link between communities and public schools. There are almost 15,000 school boards across the United States, each working to address the specific educational needs of its students. Every district varies from the next in size, socioeconomic status, and urbanization, and each school board member’s background and perspectives will influence decisions made by the board.
When educating school boards about Safe Routes to School, it is important to understand their priorities, power, and political makeup. Across the spectrum, school boards are focused on improving student achievement. As a result, any and all efforts to increase active transportation through Safe Routes to School should highlight the proven ties between physical activity and academic performance and behavior. Research shows that walking and bicycling to school have benefits for students both inside and outside of the classroom. Bring this information to your school board.
Learn more about your school board members by reading their profiles, understanding where they come from, and noting their individual priorities. Consider inviting them to Safe Routes to School events or signing up to speak to the board about best practices around the country. Attend school board meetings to understand what larger issues are facing the school board and reflect on how Safe Routes to School might help address those concerns. Talk with your school board to understand the actual distribution of authority between the district and schools – this varies by state and by district.
Finally, listen and try to understand board perspectives, and respond respectfully. Safe Routes to School programs and strategies are beneficial to schools in many ways, but school board members have many priorities and often have a longer-term, broader perspective on the future of the school system. Part of your role as a champion for Safe Routes to School must be to demonstrate the added benefit for schools of investment in Safe Routes to School policies.