Educating the Community

In just two more days, five brave volunteers will be sworn in as new board members. I for one am very excited, for I feel that this incoming group is set to make some very positive changes in how the school board acts as the agent of the community that elected them.

As you might guess, the agenda for the May 4th special board meeting is rather small. The old board will meet in executive session on last time at 5:30, they will go through the normal routine (public comment, communications, upcoming events, action agenda where new board members are sworn in) and then back to executive session with the new board members. Although it is a short agenda and a very specialized meeting, there is one item that I would like to highlight in today’s post. That of “Appointments – Board Committees/Representatives”.

First, it is my understanding that these are actually Superintendent committees; I believe they are commissioned by the superintendent and they report to the superintendent. Sure, they may make a report to the board from time to time, but legally speaking, they are not Board Committees as spelled out. Furthermore, I believe as Superintendent appointed committees, they are not subject to the Open Meetings Act. It is tricky enough to even find out the name of all the committees that have been created, let alone when they meet or find the agendas. (While researching the OMA, I found out that Evanston/Skokie School District 65 neatly spells out the function of board committees for their school district: http://www.district65.net/domain/66)

Here’s the rub. Based on my own experience, and hearing from others that have attended various committee meetings, there is a depth of excellent information reported at some of these meetings. For example, The Education Equity Excellence (EEE) Committee shares a ton of information about the achievement gap, and often has overlap with the Discipline Equity/Advisory Task Force in terms of inequities in suspensions and expulsions. Both the Finance Committee and the Promises Made/Promises Kept (PMPK) Committee share a wealth of information about the finances, and I know from personal experience that Gene Logas in the past, and Matt Foster currently, were more than happy to share their knowledge about finances. Some committees have become, over the years, much better about posting relevant documents (in addition to agendas and minutes) on a committee webpage, but there are still quite a few for which it is exceptionally difficult to learn about.

And now we come to the topic of this post – Educating the Community. The school district is all about education, right? The core of the Unit 4 mission statement says the school district “… is to guide all students in gaining knowledge …”. Are we to consider that only those aged 5-18 and enrolled qualify as “students”? *grin* Are we not all supposed to be “life-long learners”? So try this suggestion on and see how it fits with the so-called “Board Committees”. Given that committees are tasked with a project or responsibility, what if all committees were structured to address an audience that is not physically present? Maybe perhaps podcasts, prezi presentations, online documentation – basically, an online class. The face-to-face meetings can (and should) still happen as a way to have an organic discussion about the “lessons”, but the “lessons” should be able to reach a much broader audience. This means they are not only available, but also accessible and delivered in such a way that the average Joe can understand it. I have challenged the board in the past to make it so a Unit 4 5th grader can understand the content. The challenge still holds.

Let me close with one more example. The Facility Committee has had an interesting history, recently resurrected/reborn at the time DeJong-Ricther was hired. The Facility Committee was “ground zero” were members had an opportunity to chew on all the various high school location options. All those questions you see being asked in the News-Gazette online comment section were already asked and pondered 3 years ago by the committee. The number one problem is all that great discussion, debate and deliberation were all locked up in the four walls of the meeting. Worse, even though the public was invited to attend, the public was not allowed to particpate (based on first-hand experience). Yes, granted, some if trickled out via board meetings or the occasional News-Gazette column, but by and large, the community was not educated. The fact that the April referendum failed by such a large margin is a testament, in my opinion, to the lack of the community’s engagement in the process. This is why it was so easy for the Keep Central Central crowd and the tax-defeating interests of the Koch Bros. to sway votes.

The bells may ring at 8:00 am and 2:30 pm for most schools, but the School of the Body Public is going 24/7. We are students also – teach us.

PS: I gave the KCC a hard time about the billboard they put up near Judah. It has come to my attention that the flyers Unit 4 sent out cost significantly more than the billboard. I believe those full-color flyers were propaganda paid for with public tax dollars – I am still trying to determine the facts whether they were actually paid for with public money or private donations.

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