I hadn't had time to write about the Executive Committee meeting last week but it ties in nicely with a recent article in the Seattle Weekly about why Dr. Enfield is leaving.
I noticed that after the election, Michael DeBell really seemed down. I can understand; Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier were not just colleagues but friends. But he is an elected official and election change comes with the territory.
Then, scant weeks into terms of Peaslee and McLaren, I was hearing that he was unhappy. That he thought that some members of the Board (who shall remain nameless) were asking too many "micromanaging" questions of Enfield. It's unclear to me whether it was asking too many questions or asking questions that stepped into Enfield's realm of action.
Then Enfield said she was leaving, said it had nothing to do with the election results but would not say anything else.
But it is clear from Michael's actions recently that he is struggling with not only losing Peter and Steve but now Dr. Enfield. He has made it very clear he doesn't want her to leave. I'm pretty sure he has told her privately to let him know what might make her stay.
So the Weekly article first where he is quite blunt (and unlike him, publicly so):
DeBell admitted that micro-managing is a problem at the district and that Enfield was unhappy with it.
He says he's not at liberty to discuss details, and the superintendent herself has been tight-lipped about her reasons for going.
But DeBell elaborates a little when he talks about "individual" board members trying to influence the superintendent and other staff members, rather than going through the "public" process of introducing a proposal and having it voted on.
Putting himself in the superintendent's shoes, he says: "If you just step back and consider seven different bosses all potentially going different and conflicting directions, it's really an impossible situation."
Yes, that would be a bad situation but I know the Board to be professional people who would NOT all be trying to sway staff. I think some of the issue how is how often the Board asks questions/volume of versus what they are asking.
But you do need to step back and look at it from the Board's POV. They have one staff person who does research for them (and she reports to a district administrator, not the Board). If they have questions, it might occur to them to ask them at a committee meeting or work session (where you'd think it would be okay).
Then there was the discussion around Board Policy 1620 at the Executive Committee meeting that is crucial to this discussion and crucial to how the Board and the next superintendent interact.
The members of the Executive Committee are Kay Smith-Blum, Michael DeBell and Betty Patu. Michael is the Chair. Also in attendance were Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee.
At the beginning of the meeting as they went over the agenda, Kay asked for this item to be pulled because there was so much to go over and they had a full agenda. Then there ensued quite the polite tug-of-war. Michael said they had staff there to go over it and should continue. Betty backed Kay up and said it really was a serious policy that needed a lot of time. Michael said it was the 5th draft (but obviously probably only the lst draft that either Marty or Sharon had ever seen). Kay said it wasn't part of their work plan for the year. Michael said the committee was where this work took place. Betty said okay, if you feel strongly, let's do this.
So they then went thru a few items first.
They did talk about waivers and Betty had staff confirm that schools with waivers must pay for their own materials. Holly Ferguson said they must be able to identify their funding source(s). Marty asked if they could facilitate use of the waiver such that if a program has already been piloted at one school, that a new school could just use the first school's template. There was some discussion over whether this was a superintendent procedure or Board policy. Michael said those issues could be further discussed "downstream." It seems that Kay, Betty, Marty and Sharon are hoping the Board will consider an appeal process for schools if the Superintendent says no to a waiver.
Then they got to the policy. Michael explained that he was exercising his right as a Board member to make suggestions for Board procedures. He said none of the work came from staff and he worked on it over the winter break but he did have help from Erin and Holly.
He said he was trying to accomplish some guidelines for Board and staff to improve the "boundary" between governance and management. He said it was based on his years of experience.
He said the governance of the Board "isn't affected in any way." He said the Board can visit any school and ask staff questions. He said it was to help staff give the best answers possible.
He said there was a lack of clarity about the "ideal relationship" and what best practices could/should be. He said they do not have individual power for governance.
He said because of the cuts at central administration and lack of staff, there is language about Board asking staff for work.
(My aside here is that I get that but the Board has to do ITS work as well and the Board are elected officials. It's their job to make sure they have the best information possible to make decisions.)
Michael was clear about adopting the procedures at this meeting. He said because they are in a leadership transition and would like to attract the best possible candidates. He said there is an awareness of this issue in every district.
Then Dr. Enfield chimed in with what I thought was a telling statement. She said that some candidates for superintendent have their working relationship with a school board defined in their contract.
Really? Look, if someone looks our district over (as we look him or her over) and read the Board policies and gets upset, then probably he or she is not the person for our district. If a candidate demands specific language in their contract about how he or she will work with the Board, then maybe he or she is not the person for our district.
Dr Enfield left at this point.
Just as Michael does not want the Board to change its policies every time there is an election (he referenced this), it is then equally fair to say that we don't need a new set of rules every time we get a new superintendent.
Now unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay as they hashed it all out. (The Times' Brian Rosenthal told me the meeting went an hour over its scheduled time.) But what I heard in the beginning made me feel good about the elected officials in the room.
Fun fact that I didn't know about Marty McLaren. She has lived in a communal group situation for years. And, because of that, she has a LOT of experience in learning how to communicate and find consensus. During this meeting, she showed that.
She spoke up, saying she offered a new perspective and was a big believer in positive, constructive language. (And I have to say that the language in the sheet before me was much more of a blunt instrument, again, odd coming from the Michael DeBell that I know.)
Kay expressed the concern that this was a policy " that will guide everything we do."
Michael replied that "I own the language and am comfortable with changing the language but I am wedded to the basic goals."
Betty also chimed in about how serious this particular policy was to their work. She did not want to rush through it. Michael conceded that it was very important and that they may have to schedule more time. But he also said something that I had some disagreement with. He said that Harium and Sherry both have full-time jobs and time is of the issue.
Okay, BUT they chose to be on the Board. If it is impossible to be on the Board and work full-time, then your choice is not to be on the Board. Because of the almost volunteer nature of the job, of course, all the Board has to be sensitive to each other's time but it does not negate that they have a job to do that may require time and careful thought.
Michael also referenced Don McAdams (who has served as a consultant to the Board and I'm not sure I get why) and that Mr. McAdams wanted even stronger language.
So they got started working, line by line. As I said, I didn't stay for the entire thing but what I did hear were Board members expressing their thoughts and concerns and then listening to what other Board members had to say. It was a beautiful thing.
One thing I appreciated hearing was Sharon Peaslee stressing that it should be about how the Board can advocate for maximum effectiveness rather than what they shouldn't be doing.
Kay had a great point where she advocated for language like "the Board and Superintendent will work together as a cohesive unit in the spirit of collaboration." That's a lot friendlier language than drawing strong lines.
Michael also did point out a fact that most don't know (or want to forget). The law gives all authority to the Board. For example, the RCW about School Boards allows them to hire principals. Michael pointed out in small districts, their boards do just that but with larger, urban district that has shifted to superintendents.
The staff listened attentively and Ron English, district counsel, offered some good suggestions for wording. However, there was some body language from some staff that suggested some concern about the wording being decided on.
This policy was scheduled to be introduced at the Board meeting on January 18 but will now but introduced on Jan. 25. I did ask for an electronic copy and will link it as soon as I receive it.