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Monday, June 11, 2012

Board Retreat

The School Board had its retreat on Saturday, June 2nd.  I attended most of it.  I have to say it was a bit annoying for them to choose a downtown hotel to meet in as 1)who paid for that? and 2)it means that you have to pay for parking.  Not so encouraging for the public.

They had a couple of facilitators who were low-key and kept things on track.  There were several members of the public, one Alliance person and Brian Rosenthal from the Times.  All the Board members were in attendance along with Superintendent to-be Banda.  DeBell was seated next to Banda which is where DeBell usually sits (next to the superintendent).  I'm thinking President DeBell will have a very different relationship from the one he enjoyed with Enfield.  They were quite close.

The facilitator had the Board fill out index cards with their "hopes and fears" for the retreat.  (I hate this kind of facilitation but apparently it helps draw people out.)  What seemed odd to me is then they had members read them aloud (so you knew exactly who said what). 


Hopes
Peaslee - improve transparency and collaboration
DeBell - work well with the Superintendent

Fears
Carr - getting bogged down in tactical details and not focused on "high-level work"
Smith-Blum - individual agendas impacting collaborative work
McLaren - withholding information about individual agendas and beliefs
Peaslee - preconceived notion about governance rather than collaborative thinking
DeBell- Board unwilling/unable to give Superintendent the time to know the city/district before asking for change or new initiatives


What to Do
Carr - speak to your own feelings but don't assume you know others' intent
Banda - seek to understand

There was some discussion about individual members going to staff for information/input without notifying the head of the committee that that particular issue falls under. 


Peaslee said she wanted to call out this micromanaging charge because she wanted to fully understand where the line is.  She gave as an example, what if she had an issue with a Creative Approach school?  She referenced that there were e-mails with DeBell discussing the CA policy before it came before the Board and her concern that they were being pressured to sign off on a policy that possibly wasn't ready. 

Martin-Morris pointed out that it was difficult for staff to say no to anything that the Board requests.  (I would again point to the issue that the person who is responsible for their research reports to district staff.  The Board needs an independent person who works for them.  I wish the Alliance would fund that.)

Carr said that MGJ was very clear on "asks" and would say that if Board members ask for one thing, then something else might not get done.

DeBell said the scope of the request needs to be clear.  He also said they needed to better capture the language of such requests in the minutes of meetings. 

McLaren pointed out that the transportation issue was "micromanaging run amuk."  She said they set themselves up for failure and that the leadership was "otherwise occupied" (she was referencing Enfield, not DeBell). 

DeBell said he disagreed with both premises.  He said the district lacked the leadership in the transportation department and promises were not fulfilled.  He said management came back with more expenses but the Superintendent couldn't change that.  (No, but she could have looked at regular monthly reports and realized what was happening?  Why do we always get to the crisis stage without early warnings?)

Carr said she didn't think the Board appreciated the Pandora's box they opened in making the request for cuts to the transportation budget.  She said, "we let stuff languish."  She was speaking in general that they have known for a long time that they were spending too much on transportation and not having an efficient system. 

She then went on a long and sighing monologue over having to spend a lot of time on the McDonald and JSIS boundaries because of pressure from parents (apparently she didn't hear the cries of the Green Lake parents over this issue as they got the very short end of the stick on these boundaries).  She stated, "I love them but every minute I spend there, I am not working on governance issues like cost-structure and enabling technology and our vision." 

Being in the weeds versus high-level management - any thoughts out there about how the Board could better manage this?  Should there be two Ombudsmen so that parents filter their concerns via a district person rather the Board?  Any other ideas or is listening to parents part of the job?  If so, how much of the job?

Patu brought up the issue about not being told about the Montessori part of the pre-school at Graham Hill being shut down.  She said she may not be part of that decision but if it affects a school in her district, she expects staff to notify her of it and that she not hear about it from parents.  Ron English, Legal Counsel, interjected that Betty has brought this up a lot and is correct in that no one likes surprises.

For some odd reason, DeBell rose up (again) to defend Enfield and said the decision was the principal's and not Enfield's.  Patu said fine but the principals can't ask for autonomy and then not be able to defend their decisions (or kick them up to the Board or district staff) when they want to take cover.  De Bell concurred that the Superintendent or Ex Director should call out a principal who is unwilling to stand by a decision made by him/her.

This lead to a discussion of mentoring first-year Board members and helping them to understand how to interact with parents (more as a way to monitor their time than a specific way to act).  DeBell said it is easy to fall into a problem-solver mode instead of directing them to the right person.  He said he doesn't get very many e-mails because he has done this and parents know not to write him asking for help. 

They also looked over the results of a Board survey on governance.  It seems most of the Board believe that they are doing many of the items "some" or "most of" the time.  They agreed it was important to give the public an idea of their research and thought-process on decisions.   Martin-Morris said that just putting information up on the website "disenfranchises" some people. 

I would agree but he also offered no solutions. 

They had lunch and then senior staff came it.  It was interesting to feel the shift in the tone in the room.  I kind of felt like there was a lot of good discussion going and that something around governance (or high-topic governance issues) would be in place before senior staff came in but that didn't happen.

Bob Boesche, CFO, said that he would like requests to come to the superintendent first.  He also suggested a retreat for staff.   Patu said that when she was in Anaheim, senior staff there were consulted by Board members before going to the superintendent in order to not slow his work down.

McLaren and Carr were in agreement that information to one member should go to all members so that members are not overlapping in requests and that members stay abreast of issues of concern.

Holly Ferguson, who now has another ultra-long, hard-to-remember name but she's in governance, handed out a 3-page Excel document with a list (not complete by my viewing) of work plan issues.  I will ask her for an electronic copy as it overlays the departments each item affects.

She said the big five to get done "very well" and coming up soon were: BEX IV, Operations levy, and the big three contracts - SEA, PASS and Local 609.  I get why all of these are important but again, it's always about money.

There is this clear idea - from both Board and staff - that with cutbacks of staff and resources, that they must get their internal processes up to speed and that they need to be clear on the "core work."

Clearly BEX is not a core job normally but when it does come around AND because we have dire straits both from capacity management and building condition, it becomes very important over the next 9 months. 

From the handout:
Development of the 2013-2014 Budget - After 4 years of cuts, additional cuts will need substantial research, analysis and communications, both internally and externally.  The easy "cuts" have been made - hard choices ahead.  I take this to mean it is going to get worse before it gets better.

There were a couple of oddities on the list like "overhaul of student discipline structures" which I don't see as a pressing need.  Interestingly it was stated that it was one put forth by Enfield but hey, since she's leaving, they can revisit that one.

At this point, they went around the table and staff all stated how long they had been with the district.  It was quite stunning.  Wendy London had been at her new job a week and with the district just one year.  Nearly everyone was less than 2 years (although Ron English and Holly Ferguson are practically lifers.  Tracy Libros wasn't there.) 

Boesche pointed out that while most of them had not been with the district long, they all had extensive backgrounds in their jobs.  This is true and quite a bonus.  I hope we can keep Mr. Boesche and Mr. Nichols and Ms. McEvoy for a longer period of time. 

DeBell, after looking over Ms. Ferguson's list, said it was too long.  (There were about 24 items in no particular order.)  He said they should narrow it down "today" - I'll have to follow-up and see if that did indeed occur.  He said "If we try to do too much, we do poorly and that was MGJ biggest strategic mistake."

There was some discussion around items that would stall out the district versus those that are important but the work in the district would go on without attention to them (like what athletic league we are in).  Peaslee pointed out that there are inter-related items like the athletic league affecting transportation and bell times.  Banda pushed back a little on Peaslee's point. 

Banda said he knew it was a draft and that he would work with staff on it.  He said he thought reorganizing Central Administration and setting the priories comes first.

I could see, though, that there was not going to be complete agreement on what will be a priority.

10 comments:

mirmac1 said...

I also sensed tension during the second half of the meeting. I thought this did NOT give Banda a good impression of the relationship between staff and Board (note I do not include the new Supt in that conflict).

It seemed most of the pushback from staff came from Ferguson, now grand poobah. Boesche was sober and concerned, but he always comes across as a nice, easy-going guy.

At least TFA wasn't on the list of "priorities", but it may as well be, given the amount of high-level staff time devoted to hiring a handful of temp teachers.

mirmac1 said...

BTW, thanks for the great write-up Melissa.

Charlie Mas said...

Will the new set of priorities replace the old set of priorities that didn't get done? The last fall board retreat identified a number of priorities, many of which are not complete (some which aren't even started). Are those priorities now expired?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, that's a mystery.

Anonymous said...

Did the retreat address special education issues?

Reader

mirmac1 said...

Reader,

Haahaa haa, good one... Oh! You weren't joking? sorry.

Syd said...

What?!

The decision to close the preschool at Graham Hill was the principal's?

I went to several of the meetings at the school, and this was not the impression given to the parents. Plus the principal is retiring.

My child is not even in the montessori program (our student is in the contemporary program at GH), and this revelation makes me upset. The schools's ability to pull in middle class students is compromised. The Montessori program is compromised.

I just don't know what to say to this.

Disgusted said...

Why would DeBell care about retreat priorities? Isn't DeBell the guy that side tracks board work by throwing in a hastily put together MOU for Creative Approach Schools and BP 1620?

Creative Approach Schools added a lot of unplanned work for the board.

mirmac1 said...

Disgusted,

And there you have it. Nearly the entire list of 25 is basically the multitude of tasks generated by the true micromanagers on our board. They need to prioritize their priorities.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Syd, I can only report what was said at the meeting. I know this has been a very upsetting issue at Graham Hill and I think the district made a decision that could affect enrollment at Graham Hill for a long time.