The Board retreat was last Saturday. I was one of two observers along with reader Cecilia.
As I previously mentioned, I felt a lot of good energy and reason for hope from this new team. There were a couple of people around the table that felt the need to point out how many new people there were but there is nothing to be done except regroup and move on. Rapid turnover is not good for any organization but I personally feel this is a good team (as does the Superintendent).
I also mentioned a couple of things that the Superintendent said that stuck out. One, that staff needs to not be overloaded because they have a lot on their plates already. He said, "our system lends itself to that..." He said "If we want to hold onto people, we need to set aside peripheral things and work on specifics."
I agree BUT the Board has to be able to ask for data and discussion so they can do their work. More on this later on in the discussion.
There was a survey done of the Cabinet and I am hoping to see this as there was some discussion about it.
They went around the table and talked about successes and challenges. There was mention again of the turnover but the Strategic Plan and its successful implementation seems high in people's minds. New director Stephan Blanford said it was a challenge for him to run as he is an introvert and you need to be an extrovert to run. Legal counsel Ron English struck a somber note saying that staff had prepared for the Board meeting on the vote for the new Growth Boundaries and "yet it was a 7 /2 meeting even with preparation."
Director Peaslee started off in an odd way (that had me worried for a minute) but finished strongly. She said she thought it was the "desire of APP to grab onto a building and hold it for all eternity." But she felt this desperation was born of many splits and interim sites and being in a holding pattern. She said the district needs an AL program that is accessible and equitable and that will "save heartburn and angry, angry e-mails." She said she felt the success of the joining of the Native American program and Pinehurst program was a great example of community work and support for a new idea.
The Superintendent did reference MAP and said "MAP was adult issues and missed what was happening for kids." I'm not sure I would agree with that statement. He also said, in various forms during the day, about working for students/kids. I would agree with that statement but it always sends a chill down my spine. Why? Because in the Moss-Adams report (I fixed the link on our home page and you can now read it - still working to get the CAICEE report), M-A said they were surprised by the number of staff who used that reasoning - "it's for the kids" - as a justification to NOT follow procedures and policies.
There was an interesting announcement. This was to be the last Board retreat sponsored by the Alliance. No explanation was given. Frankly, I think it's long overdue and a good idea for the Board to organize their own retreats. Again, I know many people would volunteer to help with logistics.
President Peaslee did get up as asked that the Board move forward "with collegial respect" and asked Board members what committees or activities they would like to serve on. (You may recall there was some unhappiness with how President Smith-Blum did this function but the only difference I could see is that President Peaslee made the ask publicly.)
No big surprises. Director Martin-Morris still wants to be the "liaison" at the city/state/national level. Director McLaren and Director Peters both would like to serve on C&I and, given their focus on the math adoption, seems an ideal place for both of them. Director Patu would like to serve as Chair of the Operations Committee. Both Director Peters and Director Blanford expressed concern over committee meeting start times because of family commitments. Director Carr, who has served ably on the A&F committee, said she would stay on there but that it is important for directors to rotate on committees.
As I mentioned, Mr. Herndon, head of Facilities, wants to focus on the maintenance backlog. Again, music to my ears.
Director McLaren then got up and explained about her research on a Code of Conduct for the Board. Because of "an article where one Board director disparaged another and there was information in the article that only the Executive Committee knew of", she wants to create a code to encourage Board members to act properly. They had handouts of what differing communities have created. Mr. English pointed out that there was no legal mechanism for Board accountability beyond the voters. Director McLaren seemed undeterred and said the Board could vote to censure another member for breaking the code. Blanford and Peaslee worried about outcomes if that happened.
I personally think it is never a bad idea to spell out expectations of behavior. There may be no enforcement but peer pressure but that in itself can be powerful.
Facilitator Bob Ness said an interesting quote about respect. He said, "Respect is the right to not know you are loved and appreciated."
They talked about the top five hot button issues from the survey. They were capacity, budget, Advanced Learning, resource challenges and Common Core/Sped/principals.
They then moved onto the discussion of Policy 1620/Superintendent procedure 1620 BP. Banda said something odd which I'll have to ask about - he said this discussion had been planned with the Cabinet and the Alliance. I have no idea why the Alliance would be any part of this conversation.
They had a handout which looked a lot like the existing policy. The directors seemed a bit confused and asked if the handout was to replace the policy. Erin Bennett called it an "update" on "logistics." It almost seemed like the Cabinet wanted to tweak the policy/procedure without having to get the Board to vote. That's my take on it.
A lot of this seems to be around Board requests for data and information to departments. They want a minimum of two Board members to sign off on these requests. Director Peters asked about if it was a request directly related to a school in her district. Director Martin-Morris reminded her that they were all directors for all schools so any other director might have the same concern.
The Cabinet also seems to want to rein in director discussions with principals (or at least be apprised of them). It would seem prudent to let someone know when those discussions take place but I would think that the principals would want to talk with a director and not have the Executive Director be the go-between for communication.
There is still frustration - long stated by other Boards - over Board members not having staff to help with research. (There is a chain of action about how e-mails get answered so that Board members don't have to answer every one or they get grouped by subject. That was good to find out.) I think it would really help for parents to know WHO to ask what. Because there is Customer Service (although I can NEVER reach anyone there) and the Ombudsman. The Directors don't have to try to address every concern especially if it is informational. I still puzzle over why Erin Bennett can't help the Directors with some research but maybe I don't understand her role.
The voice of experience came from Director Carr who cautioned about reading e-mails that may have only half the story (intentionally or not) and the confusion it can cause when a Director tries to solve a problem.
Director McLaren also suggested that the Board itself keep each other apprised of who they talk to so to cut back on duplication of work, keep up with hot topic items, etc.