"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

8-23-10 Committee Meeting Highlights Part 1

I'm still recovering from the five hour meeting. I finally decided to split this into more than one post. This is part one. I stayed for the whole meeting to find out what the Special Meeting scheduled September 13 is about. I had to endure policy discussion, which is not my forte. I internalize the critical importance of the policy aspect of Board Meetings, but I don't think our district effectively or efficiently reviews and suggests changes to policies. Every time I sit through a policy meeting, I think: "There must be a better way to accomplish this important task." I just don't know what it is. Ah, but I digress... On a side note, the Policy discussion was probably the most controversial part of the meeting. Since recurring themes were involved, I don't think it was entirely because of the late hour and sheer exhaustion of the board members by the time it came up on the agenda, but I'm sure that contributed to the contentious tone.

I got there about 20 minutes late, in the midst of the Board Development discussion regarding the Vision Statement. They're taking the Vision Statement Process to the Administrators September 20 at 5:30 p.m. in TRIS LMC, which will then be rolled out to the staff.

There was a little bit of agenda hopping at this point in order to accomodate the Youth Center Board members who attended the board meeting. Click on the post to see a copy of the agenda if you're confused. They went from item IV A directly to item VI A 2, the discussion of Establishing Fund 80 and followed that immediately with the action item VI B 4 "Approval of placing Fund 80 on the Annual Meeting Agenda." This was a thoughful change in Agenda so these folks didn't have to sit through everything else (lucky them). Anyway, much discussion was had on the topic once again, including details regarding the lease agreement with the city for use of the building that currently houses the Youth Center, possible housing of the program in the middle school, possible use of round two of stimulus funds to pay the salaries at the Youth Center (I'm doubtful that this falls under the jurisdiction of the federal funds), the philosophical opposition of just about everyone to housing the Youth Center in the schools because this isn't a conducive atmosphere for many of the Youth Center regulars, the counterpoint that if the school can't swing it any other way, are you willing to risk the program for a philosophical disagreement, a litany of what schools have established Fund 80 in our area and for what, and on and on. Throughout it all, there was an underlying certainty that the city will cut off the Youth Center and it will fall to the wayside if the school doesn't pick it up. I told the school board members I spoke to last night that the Mayor is threatening to cut every department in the city. Are they sure the EYC is going to be cut from the city budget? What if the school calls her bluff and just says NO? Will the city really cut the youth center? None of this was addressed. Conspicuously absent at both of the discussions I have attended regarding this subject were parents of children who benefit from this program. Where are the hordes of people joining their voice to the process?

After what I count as the third and not necessarily more illuminating discussion about the youth center (OK, maybe the lease details were new), the board moved (NH) and seconded (KS) to place "Establishment of Fund 80" on the Annual Meeting Agenda. There was some hair splitting at this point. Mr. Pierick said he supported the EYC as a private citizen and would vote for Establishing Fund 80 at the Annual Meeting. But he indicated that the Annual Meeting vote is not binding on the school board to implement. They don't even know what the final district enrollment numbers are yet, nor do they know what their per pupil reimbursement will be from the state. When the final tax rate is set in October would be the time the Board would vote to exceed the caps to institute the tax, I believe. This is the point at which Mr. Pierick said his duty as a board member of a very highly taxed school district would force him to vote "no." A lot of the board agrees with him in some way. The motion to place "Establishment of Fund 80 on the Annual Meeting Agenda" failed 2-5. I believe dissenting were Skinner, Hatfield, Pierick, Hurley and Busse, but I may have a few of them mixed up. It will be up to citizens to place this item on the agenda on September 27. Even if the citizens ratify the additional tax, the school board will have final say as to placing the tax in the final tax rate established in October. The usual people who show up to the Annual Call to Meeting is hardly a representative cross section of our community. YOU can change that by showing up on September 27th at 7 p.m. in the High School Media Room to cast your vote on this item and much much more. The saga continues along with the regularly scheduled agenda. Click on the link to the Observer below to see that the EYC board is wasting no time in strategizing for the upcoming public vote:


The next agenda item was V A 1 (Senior Project Graduation Requirement) so Mr. Everson could say his piece and leave. This time Board members were provided a detailed proposal for the Senior Project Pilot Program. 3-4 board members took issue with the general idea of citizen mentors with no training in grading having final say in whether or not a student graduates, much less having a graduation requirement that is not academically based. They asked for a staff member to be the liason between the project mentor and the district for final grading responsibility. To be clear, the staff liason has to be a volunteer activity.

Nancy Hurley brought up several thoughtful points. While true that any major project costs are understood to be borne by the beneficiaries of the project, there will be incidental costs for all projects requiring digital components with pictures, such as digital cameras and computer access. There needs to be a form that parents sign to agree to support incidental expenses of Senior Projects. A "slush fund" would need to be established to fund these incidental expenses for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. A product of the helicopter parent age is parents who do student's work for them. Anybody who has attended the Energy/Science Fair can spot a parent directed project a mile away. These Senior Projects are intended to become a graduation requirement and as such need to be completed by the students. Therefore, another agreement parents would need to sign is the "butt out of the project" form, verifying that this was the student's own work. Finally, any volunteer mentor would have to sign a form stating that they realize that they are volunteers and no compensation is forthcoming from the district for thier efforts.

Kids targeted for the pilot program will be those who are "over-credited," or who have met all of their graduation requirements already. An incentive half-credit will be offered to entice a larger group of kids to participate. It will look good on college application forms as well. Mentors will be identified by word of mouth and will require background checks like all school volunteers.

A vote to approve the pilot program for this year passed 5-1-1, with Pierick abstaining and Hatfield dissenting.

Now back to the regularly scheduled agenda with item IV B, 10-11 Board Goals. If you're confused about the order, don't feel bad. Most everyone in the room was by this time as well. Heidi Carvin noted that there was significant overlap between the Vision Process and the Current Goals. Her suggestion was to update the current goal list with words like "continue" and rewrite new goals during the PBB process in February by which time the ECSD Vision Statement should be complete. The new goals could flow from the Vision. Heidi has tried for two years now to get the Board to have the next year's goals ready by June so the staff can work on writing building action items over the summer to meet each goal on a building level. She has a good point here. If the board brings them goals in September, how can the buildings hit the ground running with goals that flow from the overall Board goals? Continuing with the current goals, plus a few tweaks, and writing the new goals for 11-12 in Feb or March will give the Administrators plenty of time to align building goals with board goals next summer.

But Nancy Hurley had some suggestions to improve on the goals. And, as I have come to expect, they were pretty darn good suggestions. She wanted to change the Finance Management goal into Finance and Resource Management Goals and include an item of actively seeking ways to increase revenue and resources, both monetary and human, for the district. I have not seen a very successful grant-writing process in our district. There needs to be more effort placed on this important source of funding for school districts.

The next thing Nancy wanted to add was Improved Communication between the public and the District. Oh, shades of two years ago goals, in which I proposed and volunteered to write a column for the paper. They formed a communication ad-hoc committee instead, which went nowhere fast. What Heidi really wants is a PR director for the school. Good luck with that!Anyway, Nancy proposed to write a blurb for the website and Tina agreed to pretty it up with graphics. This is a great idea, but I think they're missing the point. If you don't have kids, why do you go onto the district website? Don't they want to reach the whole community? They need that physical connection to the paper, but fear they have to pay for the column. Or would they have to pay? I don't know. It needs to be investigated. But the fundamental goal of improving public relations between the district and the community still needs to be foremost in the district's thought process.

Nancy's list also included continued emphasis on developing student character and respectful behaviors under Safety and Security. All well and good, but again, there is a piece of the puzzle missing. If a goal is improving students' respectful behavior, one of the best ways to do this if for the students to have a good model to view in their teachers, administrators and staff. When students see teachers belittling students, administrators and other teachers in public, what message do you think is getting through? Respect is a two way street, and if teachers want to receive it, the first thing they have to do is consistently offer it in all directions, to students, to peers and to administrators. This begins with the top dog. Ms. Carvin has said things about her staff in public meetings that were simply uncalled for and certainly meant to deflect blame for a bad outcome from herself to the staff member. This is not respectful or professional behavior and serves only to further alienate the community. She should save that kind of remark for private meetings with the staff member in question and for executive sessions with the board.

The 10-11 board goals and building level action plans for the goals will be on the September 27th Board Development Committee meeting agenda, along with the outcome of the vision meeting with the administration on September 20.

Heidi gave a summary of a conference she attended about "Strength Based Leadership," which states "an organization that builds on talents instead of looking at what's wrong with the organization is much more successful." It sounded like each board member and administration member took a "strengths" survey and she wants them to keep these strengths in mind when dealing with one another. The idea has some merit, although Tina remarked that she saw the data as more validating why she voted differently than others on certain topics. Her tone was more indicative that she didn't view the strengths of others as strengths, but rather why they're an obstacle to her.

I have had this experience. Many times in my career in the male-dominated field of chemistry, I was challenged for behavior the men considered to be a personal failing which I considered to be a strength. One such character trait was to deal directly with job performance of my technicians in an honest and straightforward way. This led to a person who wasn't very well suited for lab work quitting because management wouldn't assign her to another supervisor when she adamantly refused to work with "that woman" (me). My behavior was considered to be contrary and inexcusable behavior by my male collegues. I figured if her job performance was sub-par and didn't meet my expectations, which I repeatedly laid out for her, we were better off without her. They figured I was rocking the boat too much. Go figure. If this attitude prevails in the "Strength Based Leadership" thing, there won't be much improvement.

That's enough for round one. Round 2, the rest of Finance and Policy, coming soon.

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