Talk with BOE President, Sue Grey (Feb 15th)

On Wednesday I had a wonderful chat with BOE President, Sue Grey. As I have mentioned in the context of other board members, I want to disclaim that Sue was speaking as an individual, not as the voice of the Board. So in my notes below, keep in mind this is just a single person talking on behalf of herself. 🙂

We talked a bit about getting information to flow out from the Board and into the community. I acknowledged that the Board does indeed exercise due diligence in casting a wide net of invitations. However, not many people come, and those that do may not stick around for that long. Sadly, much of the good work and interesting news that is exhibited at a typical Board Meeting stays locked into the Board Meeting, to a degree. Some of it gets out via one-on-one conversations or eventually a glimpse is viewable via the meeting minutes. I am not sure how many people watch the meetings on TV. As I have mentioned, I have tried to record them but somehow I always end up recording the wrong thing. I blame Comcast. I think perhaps we (all of us together) need to come up with a new way to disseminate information and help make the community aware of all the awesomeness going on at the level of the Board and the Administration. Lynn Peisker does an awesome job at the building level – we need two more of her. 🙂

One possible suggestion that might help is getting the recorded sessions to be available online. I offered that I could pick up a DVD after a meeting and host it online if the BOE is amenable. Another suggestion would be to have a Board Member (or a small group of Members) and maybe even Dr. Wiegand sit down with someone like myself or Laura Bleill from Chambanamoms (or even from the TV/Radio station) for 10-15 minutes once or twice a month and spell out what big ticket items are on their collective mind.

Sue says:

I will be discussing the DVD idea with the Board on Monday.  We have a special executive session meeting to discuss negotiations.  Again, I will pass on to the Board, I will volunteer to meet with you again in March!

Just to clear the air, why do I think it is important for the community to know what the Board and the Administration is doing with their time? It is my belief that if the Board communicates what their top priorities are, it gives the public an opportunity to see a piece of the big picture and also to provide input on that direction. As it stands, we have too little communication, in my opinion.

A related item I forgot to mention during our chat (kicking myself big time) is about communication coming back the other way, from the community to the Board. What is the most appropriate way to have something akin to “office hours” where community members can tell the Board what is on their mind? I realize that email is one avenue that is heavily used. And I am sure we who email the Board sometimes overwhelm them. 🙂 On this topic, I want to tie in her thoughts about the PTA and PTA Council. She asked why the PTA Council is no longer being represented at Board Meetings. I think this is an excellent question. From my perspective, PTA has largely lost its appeal to parents and teachers. Granted, I have a limited perspective. In my Utopian world, parents would readily voice their concerns and thoughts to school PTAs, which would then percolate up to the Council, which would then make their summary known to the Board. This seems like an excellent solution to me. In theory. But it does not happen now. If I could, I would breathe new life into PTAs.

As a follow-up, Sue asked about the possibility of a Board Member speaking at PTA Council meetings from time to time. Gaby, I’ll be heading your way soon to talk about PTA Council (again). *grin*

Some of the big items Sue mentioned that currently occupy the mind of the Board is money; what to do about pension funding, transportation funding and the early childhood  programs funding to name a couple victims if the State continues to screw us. These are big concerns, and like Sue said, Gene Logas has done a phenomenal job of getting us ready for the rainy day. I am not sure most community members see that picture. And then the whole High School thing. As we talked about, I truly believe this to be a crucial time in Unit 4’s history, and I see the discussion surrounding the high school as pivotal and extremely significant. I appreciate what she said concerning the PR (public engagement) firm that Unit 4 hired in this effort, and the idea of doing something along the line of “Great Schools, Together”. I think that is awesome! I do share her concern about the Board being lambasted (again) for hiring an outside firm. I have another concern that this new effort improve upon GST in that it goes the extra mile to pull in more voices. From what I hear from others who attended the GST events, Big Business eventually drowned out most everyone else. Again, that is hear-say – I was not involved directly, so I am only going on what others have told me.

Again as a follow-up, Sue suggested I talk to Greg and/or Kristine. I probably should have mentioned on Wednesday that I have, and have written about it. 🙂 Sue did insist that the Board did a lot of listening during GST, and I am sure they did! It is not my intent to cast the Board as stubborn people with fingers in their ears. I see that they are trying hard to engage the community, especially during GST which was a huge time commitment from several groups of people. It’s the communication piece that seems to always trip us up.

Sue mentioned that she is a big fan of experiential learning, and her thought of asking Kindergartner’s what they want High School to be like is quite interesting. I wonder how my daughter would respond. My thoughts started churning also – getting kids at all levels involved is just…. that blows my mind. Let’s do it! 🙂 This was on the heels of my thoughts about connecting to the University to ask Professors to have their students come up with solutions for us. (Nod to Imani, Pattsi and Sena).

Action Items

  • Make Open Session recordings available on-demand; I am very willing to help, I just need the green light and a blessing from the right people
  • Set up a short recurring schedule whereby a Board Member and/or Dr. Wiegand meets with a public representative (face to face) to disclose “top 5” things that are going on with the Board and maybe even respond to brief questions
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5 Responses to “Talk with BOE President, Sue Grey (Feb 15th)”

  1. pattsi Says:

    Thank you for taking the time to have this conversation and write a report. Several thoughts in response:
    1. Board reaching out to the community–monthly appearances on WDWS, WEFT, IMC radio station, guest columns in the N-G, meet and greet at the barber shop, coffee shops, grocery stores, etc. You get the picture. Why does the public have to come to the board? Why not the board going to the public?
    2. PTA’s have lost interest because there is a feeling of being ineffective, not listened to, not used as a viable resource, and very few suggestions implemented. Any or all are deal breakers.
    3. Sorry you did not grab the opportunity to strongly suggestion that Logas ought to change his presentation style to more user friendly.
    4. I do not understand the need for a PR firm. If the board actually listened to the public, there would be not need for a PR firm. The byr I
    5. Involving younger students in the conversations about a HS is a great idea. I remind you of the story I told about the U. of Texas, urban planning professor and class, who were designing a park for the neighborhood children. The take away lesson was that the children knew better what they wanted in the park that the planning students.
    6. Think about reading the ABCD Institute literature before too much more time passes.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    Pattsi,

    Agreed on so many points.

    1. Yes, totally. I have been trying to say that in gentle tones. I have said that at a Board Meeting (Jan 9th, although the official minutes do not show it – good thing I blogged about it *grin*), and more recently suggested directly to Dr. Wiegand after a focus group on Controlled Choice that she do something more often to get the word out. Granted, the context for this post and your comment is the Board and I am blending them together with the Superintendent. So going back to the original context, yes, I agree it would be entirely helpful for the Board to be more intentional and going out to the public sphere.

    2. I think that is half of the equation; parents (and I daresay teachers as well) have lost interest in PTAs because they are so business-like. I mentioned in my time with Sue that PTAs are now being modeled like Board Meetings, and not in a good way. We need to break that habit.

    3. See my June 11th, 2010 suggestion – I confess, I have failed to follow-up with Gene. Going to do that this coming week. Heck, he lives a 5 minutes walk from me, maybe I’ll just drop by. 🙂

    4. If and if. I think that pretty much goes back to #1 and #2.

    5. Yes, I remember your story quite well and it has made an impact upon me. Which is why I am so excited about the idea.

    6. I have “A Match on Dry Grass” and started reading that already. The Intro is completely dull and dissuasive, but the first chapter and story are awesome! And while I have been engaging folks involved with http://abcdinaction.ning.com/, I do need to read some of the core literature a bit. Very soon. I had to take a break earlier and read some Sci-Fi to clear my palette, but I think I am ready to dive back in.

    Ok, so half of the points above speak directly to bad communication between the Board and the community. In my own life, I am realizing the huge importance of going out to people and spending time with them, asking them what they think, really listening. This is hard – especially when one struggles to do it at home. 🙂 But I see it as vital. And now I am pretending that I am an elected Board Member – how do I go out and meet with different kinds of people? I work during the day, I have tons of meetings during the evening and a family and life. If I were a Board Member, I would have to nix the meetings as a lower priority. Or at least restructure them completely so they were shorter, could conduct business asynchronously and/or in absentia (ie, online) and somehow be much more organic. I really don’t like how Robert Rules dictates how we do meetings. I hate it, in fact. Yes, I see where it is helpful and even needed, but not so ubiquitously.

    I am almost thinking that the Board needs a dedicated person (a Board member?) who does what Lynn Peisker does for the school buildings. But she is overworked – you would need someone with a tighter focus, someone who is in the community a lot, someone who is excited but also very good at listening. I know many (if not all) the current Board members have a desire to play this role. And this is where I struggle – I know folks like Jamar Brown, Tom Lockman, Greg Novak and Sue Grey are talking to individuals and groups “all the time.” What more do I want? I am torn. Where is the communication breaking down? What am I missing?

    I am still of the opinion that to effect really awesome bi-directional communication, a Board Member would not only have to go out and meet people, but make a very public, very open report of such meetings. Something along the lines of “I met with so-and-so, we talked about this and that, and we agreed we would do such and such.” Or maybe styled after military “After Action Reports”, listing both pros and cons. This is but my uneducated, inexperienced opinion. And until I hear something better, I am sticking with this. 🙂

  3. pattsi Says:

    I am rising to your challenge just how to go about intermingling. First though, my suggestions apply not only to the board, but also higher administration personnel.
    There is no excuse when one chooses to be an elected official to not intermingle even after a full day, family, etc. If one can not extend oneself to find out how constituents feel, simply put do not run for office. This caveat stated–here are means and ways to do this–hold Town Hall meetings at the public library, create kitchen cabinets on various areas of concern, make efforts to go to community meetings (board members at the barber shop gathering, but do not talk), the guest editorials, go to summer concerts at the parks (talk with the folks at the park), create a blog, etc. Personally, I have town halls, two kitchen cabinets, a blog, post on HalfwayInteresting blog, post on SmilePolitely blog, talk with people all of the time to get feed back–of course, all of this pertains to the county, not Unit 4.

    Also I heard on the news today that the superintendent will be having dinner with folks at Stratton sometime soon.

  4. chat with Dr. Wiegand: Dr. Alves, and top priorities « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] also asked about some of the top priorities on her mind these days, alluding to Sue’s top priorities of funding issues. Wiegand confirmed that these issues are also pressing on her a bit; in addition […]

  5. Houlihans: Board President Sue Grey to join us March 21, and a recap from previous Houlihans « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] 21st). I have asked her to give me an update once a month what is on the Board’s plate. The last time we met, Sue mentioned that the Board is rather concerned about “pension funding, […]


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