Wednesday, May 30, 2007

One idea at a time - volunteer Board staff

No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.

Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.

IDEA #3 volunteer Board staff.
Periodically, we hear that the Board cannot do their job properly because they lack staff. The lack of staff is provided as the reason they can't respond to their email, phone calls, and letters. The lack of staff is given as the reason that the Board isn't adequately informed on issues. The lack of staff is given as the reason that the Board relies so heavily on the staff's version of reality. There are a number of other failures which are attributed to the Board's lack of staff.

I have heard Board members go on about how the District doesn't make adequate use of community volunteers, and how the schools haven't made enough use of the talent pools in their communities. The Board should lead by example by asking informed, involved, and expert community members to provide them with staff support. Surely there are folks who would, on a volunteer basis, read and respond to constituent email. I know for absolute certain that there are community members who would do analysis and provide advice to Board members. In fact, they are itching for the chance. There are marketing professionals, construction professionals, statistical analysis professionals, education professionals, legal professionals, experts of every stripe who would love to provide a Board member with their expert review and suggestions.

All the Board members have to do is allow it. They don't even have to ask; they just have to stop declining offers. It is disingenuous for the Board to ever complain of a lack of staff or use their lack of staff as an excuse. They could have all the support they could ever want or need and they could have it for free simply by allowing it.

So, what do you think? Would this innovation help the Board fulfill their function? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?

1 comment:

Melissa Westbrook said...

The Board would say, "Well, we have no way of knowing how people get their information and we would need to vet them, no time, etc."

But here's the deal; there is no money for staff beyond what they have. I'm with Charlie, if they want better information especially on marketing, construction, etc., they DO NOT have to depend on staff's assessments. They can ask the community for help (it doesn't have to be parents in those professions because I'm sure many companies would do it pro bono if it meant better decisions for better schools). Frankly, this is something the Alliance, with all their contacts, would be great at doing for the Board.

Two things I know for sure. One, staff has its own plans, ideas and agendas. Each department doesn't necessarily (as Charlie as pointed out) consult and work with each other (I'm not saying never but it isn't mentioned much.) For the Board to base all its decisions on the info/opinion of the staff is wrong. In Charlie's example of the 3-column sheet for any particular issue, staff always puts as one choice "status quo" and some doomsday statement. But, honestly, aren't there times when it is better to wait, either for another issue to play out or to see if there isn't a more cost-effective way to do something? But it never is to staff and you have to wonder.

Two, there are people who would love to help the Board. I know from experience it is hard work. The Board would have to give staff names of people/companies that are helping them do research on an issue and tell staff to give them full and complete information in a timely manner. All those pieces have to be there or it won't work. Staff likes to hold people at arm's length, give incomplete information or just plain contradictory information.

I can see where staff could feel challenged by others doing research for the Board. But education is pretty fluid and for staff to think they have all the answers is not valid. It pays to find out what other districts in our area and around the country do and not just take the word of one source that "this way" is the best or only way.

It's worth considering.