Meet a School Board Member
Michelle Healy, Associate Editor of the American School Board Journal, has featured Humble ISD School Board Vice President Charles Cunningham on the National School Board Association's National Connection HUB in an article titled "Meet a School Board Member."
MEET A SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER
Six months after Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters wreaked havoc on communities throughout the Texas Gulf Coast, recovery for Humble ISD “is coming along,” says school board vice president Charles Cunningham.
The fast growing 42,400-student district, about 17 miles northeast of downtown Houston, suffered close to $100 million worth of storm damage. Kingwood High School, home to 2,600 students and 250 staff, was inundated with water and had to be closed.
The refurbished school is set to reopen March 19, allowing students and staff to leave the temporary home they shared with Summer Creek High. Since September, the Summer Creek campus housed two schools – close to 5,000 students – in morning and afternoon shifts.
Two other damaged district buildings – the Welcome Center and the Instructional Support Center – remain closed.
The hurricane and its aftermath “was a challenge, but fortunately for us, we have not only a good district, but employees, administrators, teachers, and a community that cares about public education,” Cunningham says. “We have great local support from parents and businesses. I think after Harvey, we really got even more united.”
Cunningham, a key accounts consultant for CenterPoint Energy, is in his 11th year as a Humble board trustee. He flrst decided to run for the Board after several years of volunteering at his children’s local schools and becoming “more aware of the issues involved with public education.” From his work on various PTA committees, Cunningham “wanted to be a part of the solution” to improving education for all students.
On the Humble ISD Board, his business experience is put to use as chairman of the Audit Committee and as a member of the Finance Committee, the Building and Planning Committee, and the Legislative Committee.
Cunningham was elected by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) to serve on its Board of Directors and is a current Director and the past president of the Gulf Coast Area Association of School Boards (GCAASB).
A major challenge facing school boards is that “public education continues to be attacked on all fronts,” he says. “In our state, it’s a matter of where are we going to be at with vouchers, in addition to public funding. We have had several challenges in court and the courts have said we are adequately funded. But we’re talking about being equitable.”
This year, the Humble Board of Trustees has been named a flnalist in a statewide excellence in education recognition program. Only flve school boards out of more than 1,000 in Texas have been selected for the distinction.
Along with organization, engagement, and hard work, Cunningham credits the seven-member board’s leadership success to a mix of talents, skills, and experience “that balance well.” It helps, for example, that some members “can see the education side that some of us business folks might not,” he says.
He counts the hiring of Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen in 2016 among his proudest accomplishments. “Selecting a superintendent is one of the most important things a school board member will do,” he says.
In Humble, it’s also a rarity. “We’ve only had four since WWII,” Cunningham says, and until Fagen, all had been men.
In particular, he praises the new superintendent’s emphasis on educating the whole child, along with her leadership in the district’s adoption of “Portrait of a Graduate” core competencies to improve 21st century teaching and learning.
He also commends her support of a comprehensive, “rooftops-to-flowerbeds” facilities assessment that identifled $2 billion in potential projects. In May, voters will decide on a $575 million bond referendum that would fund major construction and renovation projects for the district.
Navigating the waters as a school board member is “complicated,” Cunningham says, noting the “restrictions, regulations, and laws” that must be observed. He’d emphasize that challenge to any prospective board member, but also the satisfaction associated with the work. Take for example the sense of normalcy that students, parents, and staff will feel with the reopening of Kingwood High. He expects some tears, but they will be tears of joy.
--By Michelle Healy (firstname.lastname@example.org) , Associate Editor, American School Board Journal