To say that Taupo woman Lorraine Kerr is dedicated to improving children's potential is an understatement.
As one of only a handful of people who have been a member of a school board since their creation, Kerr has notched up over 30 years and says improving children's educational experiences has been a highlight of her life.
Kerr is now the President of the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA), with her interest in supporting schools happening because she wanted to support her own children – and now she wants to encourage others to stand for school boards at the coming elections in September (nominations close August 3).
"For me, education is the gateway to the rest of the world. I've always been interested in my own children's education, because I didn't have the best time at school. So I needed to know what that looked like being involved in the running of a school. You want to be there for your kids as a parent, and becoming a board member followed on from that," she says.
Kerr is so invested in her children's education that she was a trustee on three different schools with her children attending primary, intermediate and a secondary schools at the same time.
Her children have grown up, but now Kerr is doing it for others: "In my head I was doing it to help make a difference with my own children but it became not just for my own children, it became for every child."
Kerr currently serves on the Taupo-Nui-a-Tia College school board and regularly travels from Wellington, where she works, back to Taupo for every board meeting. She says it is vital to support schools because it can positively influence our communities.
"It is about believing that you make a difference, that the support mechanisms you put around the principal and staff make a difference for kids in the classrooms. It has a knock-on effect on the community."
The 2022 school board elections is prompting Kerr to put the call out to anyone interested in improving educational outcomes for young people. While certain attributes, such as financial knowledge and strategic thinking, are great to have, boards also need diversity.
"We encourage people to think above, 'I'm just a mum, or an unemployed person through no fault of my own.' Everybody has something to offer and NZSTA steps in and supports your training and development.
"It's great if you have the time and if you know how to be a team member. It's the whole board that makes the decisions. Just being able to relate to others, to have empathy, to have values around listening to others rather than wanting to speak – that's what is needed to be on a school board.
"Teamwork is really important. You have to learn to get on with each other and know you are all there for the same purpose which is to improve student potential," she says.
She says there are a broad range of issues facing boards, and they need to be creative to get better results. "What do we need to do to improve potential? Do we need to upskill principals and teachers? These are important questions you need to ask."
Because the role of a school board is huge, and they are employers of staff, the NZSTA works alongside them with training and guidance when issues arise. She says the training and the opportunities that come from it are big benefits of becoming a school board member.
"We have CEOs of big companies and cabinet ministers who were once board members; the confidence they gained from being on a board has enabled them to continue on with their personal and career development."
"NZSTA's main role is to equip all board members with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be effective." Training ranges from helping new board members understand their roles, understand the curriculum and the Education and Training Act, and how to build trusting relationships.
She says schools today face a range of issues depending upon the make-up of their communities: "In the early days, policy and property were the two main areas. Now school boards need to know what good reporting looks like for student achievement. If our achievement results aren't that good, you've got to ask why. But it can't be a blame and shame exercise - it's got to be about how we can seek to improve the potential for all our kids."
Kerr believes it takes courage to stand for election as a board member because the democratic process feels daunting for many: "Maybe the notion of the voting process puts people off because, if you don't get selected, that might feel like a failure.
"Have a go – and if you don't get on, don't give up. This is about your children, my children, our children. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing people flourish."
"You are standing up for your children's future when you stand for your school board and, I believe, eventually for your country's future.
"One of the things I have said to many ministers is that I would love to see the day when they, the Minister of Justice or Minster of Social Development, are out of a job. That starts with our schools."
Contact your school for a nomination form or, for more information: https://www.schoolboardelections.org.nz/becoming-a-board-member/