My public testimony at the school board meeting tonight:
Tonight I'm going to address the issues of communication and trust. Many people, tonight and tomorrow night, are going to speak opposing the superintendent's preliminary recommendations for closure. You might ask, why can't we give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the best about these recommendations? Well, that would require trust. And trust requires open communication. Without frequent, open communication, there can be no trust.
I've spoken with several people who are pleased with Phase II of the closure process, saying the process is more appropriate, with the right people involved, and that sensitive issues require smaller, closed conversations. That may be true, but for those of us outside the process, it has been a black hole of communication since the Board vote on closure at the end of July. The public meetings scheduled in August were cancelled, with little notice and no clear explanation.
I don't know enough about how the Phase II recommendations were reached to know how to respond. Did principals and staff involved in these discussions negotiate these recommendations? Or just take part in them? Was the input of the principals and staff ignored, or listened to? Without knowing the answers to these questions, how can we trust that the recommendations are good?
And before we rush into Phase II, let's pause for a minute to look at concerns remaining from Phase I of the closures. I learned this week that Viewlands is losing another teacher at the end of this month because of declining enrollment over the summer, which, of course, is the result of the closure decision. The children at Viewlands should not have to experience more change and stress during an already difficult year.
I have read that there is a transition team working on implementing Phase I of the closure plan. Who is on the team? Who is the principal on special assignment to lead the implementation of Phase I? What have they done? And why is it so hard to find out the answers to these questions? We cannot have accountability without open communication.
Moving on to Phase II, my biggest immediate concern is the lack of public hearings scheduled at Cooper, Summit K-12, Broadview-Thompson, and other schools directly affected by the recommendations. We need to go beyond what is legally required in terms of public hearings and instead do what is right. Affected school communities need to have a voice in these discussions, and they deserve to have the hearings at their schools buildings.
The lack of open communication in Phase II also apparently applies to the communication between the district and the School Board. When the Board President states publicly that she was unaware of how the Phase II process was working and has concerns about it, how much trust can community members be expected to have in the recommendations?
Perhaps, if the district had a good track record of accomplishments and follow-through on promises, there could be a certain level of trust despite poor communication. But when I send an e-mail in August expressing concern about the closure process and get an auto-reply notifying me of hearing dates in May; when I have sent multiple requests since July just asking what progress has been made towards the five year plan goals for the principal assignment process, and still haven't gotten that question answered; when you pile on those kinds of examples of poor performance and customer service on top of faulty, infrequent communication, then there can be no trust.