I had a chance to sit down with the district's new Ombudsman, Ron McGlone and talk with him about his new job. (And a shout-out to Noel Treat for suggesting the district try out this idea again.)
The district news release set out the long history that Mr. McGlone has with our district. He has been in SPS since 1990. He has worked as a non-teacher substitute (and even knew the last previous ombudsman), a family support worker and also worked in Customer Service and Enrollment.
He also served in the U.S. Army (which explains his great posture and firm handshake).
We talked about what his work might look like. He said he believed every concern brought to him would be different. For more information, visit his webpage.
He said he would be meeting weekly with the Superintendent and the senior cabinet as well as with Executive Directors. He said he wanted to hear what they had been hearing as well as give them his feedback so they could look for patterns of issues/concerns that may be district-wide. He said he had connections to power but no real power of his own.
I asked him a couple of questions that came from readers here.
Where did you get your ideas about consensus and conflict resolution? He cited General Colin Powerll and John Stanford. He spoke about bringing humanity to bureaucracy.
I also asked him about books he had read on conflict resolution and he cited Sitting in the Fire by Arnold Mindell.
He said he would bring resources to bear in helping solve problems like bringing in interpreters when needed and going out of JSCEE to talk to people. He said he would be trying to help parents understand the processes and policies of the district. He also said he was willing to speak with individuals as well as community groups.
I asked if he would be serving as a facilitator between the district and parents. He was very careful in his wording, explaining that he walked a fine line between the district and those he serves. He said his role is to be objective and impartial and he was mindful of that position.
I also questioned him about what he might tell a new superintendent, given his many years in the district. He said he would suggest bringing an open mind, learning from those who have been in the district for a long period of time and to not come in with sweeping change.
The last thing he left me with gave me much hope. His focus is on customer service and to that end, he is training (or doing refresh training) for the front lines of the district who help the public. I think that is a great place to start because if you have a bad experience with the first person you meet (or speak with on the phone), it can sour the whole experience.
Mr. McGlone is very open, very friendly and accessible. My hope is that he will be listened to by both senior staff as well as any other district personnel he may need to reach out to in order to solve problems. He can be contacted by phone at 206-252-0529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since he didn't describe any formal process in place yet, I'd say use him for any and all concerns and see where it goes. One good thing - if he is seeing patterns in complaints, he will have the ability to let the Superintendent and staff know about it.
One kind of telling thing happened after I left him. I came down to the lobby and had sat down to review my notes. A young woman walked away from the reception desk, nearly in tears. I stopped her and asked what was wrong. She said she had been trying to enroll her child in SPS and because of a physical disability, she tries to do as much as she can on the phone. She said that for the second time, the information she had been given on the phone was different from what she was being told at the reception desk. She was pretty frustrated. I suggested she call the Ombudsman.