August 22, 2019
By Lily Doctoroff
With over 95,000 elected school board members across the United States, school boards are some of the most contested elections we have in the U.S. Every year tens of thousands of candidates throw their hat into the ring to help make their local schools a better place for children.
But the road to getting there isn’t always easy. School board elections are unique races, races where the rules of other elections just don’t apply. Here are eight tips to help you win your school board election and make the most of your campaign.
1. Leave the Partisan Vitriol at the Door
Being a candidate for the legislature or Congress is frequently about embracing the fight. You’re trying to get your people out to the polls to vote against the other side, to remind them that the stakes of the election are high.
School board elections require a much more gentle touch. As President John F. Kennedy said, “Children are the world’s most valuable
resource and its best hope for the future.” When voters come to the polls they’re deciding who they trust with that precious resource.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day politics of the school board. What they’re doing, what they’re failing at. It’s even easier to get taken by the political moment, of partisan vitriol and big fights. Don’t fall into this trap.
Most voters just want to elect someone who will put their children first. They want a school board that will be caring, will listen, and will ensure their children are given every advantage available.
2. Find Your Passion, Focus On It
Our schools are the center of so much of what’s important for our community it can be overwhelming. Our schools teach sciences, arts, sexual education, work skills, civic engagement, technology, and that’s just the classes. They also help keep kids out of trouble, provide sports, hobbies, improve intergenerational poverty. It’s where people meet their lifelong friends, spouses, where children become adults.
It’s easy to get bogged down in everything a school could do. But winning school board candidates find what inspires them and makes that the focus of their campaign.
For instance, Rob Hyatt, an Alachua County School Board member whose campaign I managed in 2018, won his election by focusing on investing in the arts in classrooms. He was a lifelong music teacher, was passionate about the arts, believed deeply that teaching the arts improves children’s lives and society as a whole, and made it the centerpiece of his campaign.
His passion showed through, and he ended up winning by 25 percent over his opponent.
When you find your passion, an issue that connects to who you are as a person, it shows through, and people are drawn to it. It helps your authenticity as a candidate committed to our students, not politics.
3. Understand Teachers
There are 3.6 million teachers in the United States, and they’re watching their school board elections carefully. When their friends ask who they should support, what will these teachers say? Which candidate is speaking to the problems they face in the classroom every day?
You need to understand and engage with teachers for your run for school board. If you are a teacher, congratulations! You’re ahead of the curve! Even still, sit down with a friend who’s a teacher and listen, really listen to the struggles they face and what they want the school board to do to help alleviate those struggles. Every bit of understanding you gain about teachers will help you empathize with them, and that empathy shows through. These are the people community members turn to understand who they should vote for, and you need them on your side.
4. Knock on Doors
Depending on the size of your race, knocking on doors may or may not be the key to getting the votes you need. However, knocking on doors gives you something priceless: feedback.
On a local race polling is rarely an option, but you need a way to get feedback from regular people on what matters to them to ensure you’re on the right track.
This is called relational canvassing, meaning your goal isn’t just to get a vote, it’s to collect feedback and understand your electorate in a deep way to help guide your election. Do this right and take the feedback you’re getting to heart.
5. Know the Issues
As with all down-ballot races, voters will take cues from friends who are engaged in the process.
These education thought leaders know how complicated running a school board can be: all the priorities you have to balance, all the staff you have to make decisions on behalf of, the options and logistics of overseeing a multi-million dollar enterprise.
These leaders want to see your passion, but they also want to see you do your homework. Take the time to learn about the history of your school district and the issues they’re grappling with. Talk with the local leaders who dedicate their time to these issues. Listen, inquire, and read up on what these are. As a bonus, you might turn a few of these leaders into supporters and endorsers.
6. Intimately Know Your Schools
School board races are uniquely localized. Most parents are unaware of the issues of their school district, but they’re deeply engaged in the issues of their children’s school. Some schools face long commute times for students who take the bus. Others are facing outdated, crumbling classrooms. Others have an arts program the parents rave about, but are always worried it will be on the chopping block in the next budget. Know your local schools so you can speak with authority and empathy about the issues they face, with a commitment to address those issues.
7. Keep it Simple
Knowing the issues is the easy part, now you need to simplify. Voters are far too busy with their lives to keep up with the federal, state, and city issues in-depth, much less their school board.
You need to know the issues of your local schools, but also to create a simple message that connects emotionally to your voters.
The research on decision making is clear: emotions are the main drivers of decisions, not careful analysis. Find simple messages that cause your audience to react positively. Simultaneously, while addressing the issues you’ve now taken the time to research and understand.
8. Know You’re Not in This Alone
Campaigning can be tough. Know there are people who want to see you succeed and are here to help. You don’t have to do this alone. Campaign Greenhouse is here to help every step of the way. We have scholarships available for school board candidates so everyone can afford our coaching services.
And best of all, we connect you with a ton of other great resources to help you in your race. The National Democratic Training Committee has dozens of great, on-demand courses in their online Academy to give you the nuts and bolts of campaigning, simple software to help you build a school board campaign website, policy research documents from the National Education Association, and so much more.
Win Your School Board Election
Lean on the support you have as a school board candidate because we need more good people in office committed to helping our next generation succeed. You can set up your scholarship call with Campaign Greenhouse and get started today!