The Agenda for Monday night's (8/12/13) Board Meeting has been posted on Board Docs (Click to Open Agenda). New business includes a discussion by the Board of the Community Engagement and Survey plans for the 2013-2014. (Click to open Board Report.) We hope the Board will not simply accept the proposed plans (some of which are certainly good ideas), but will publicly and substantively discuss the following proposal and "omitted" proposal:
New for this year are 4 "Lunch and Learn Sessions" described as "one hour events" at local restaurants at which community members can join Dr. Schuster for lunch, and listen to her provide "brief updates on district news, leaving the rest of the hour for open question and answer." The "attendees" must pay for their own lunch. No mention is made of any limits to the number of people who can attend these lunches, but unless the district reserves an entire restaurant, it is safe to conclude that there will be limited seating available.
While the idea of allowing community members to directly ask Dr. Schuster questions and then receive immediate answers sounds promising, the reality is that these "Lunch and Learn Sessions" are an attempt to limit the participation of community members in sharing, asking and receiving answers to questions posed directly to the superintendent, and such sessions provide no similar opportunity for the community members to engage the Board Members.
In the last three years, we have listened to or attended board meetings at which Community Engagement opportunities were discussed. On each occasion, one or more board members suggested that Dr. Schuster host Town Hall Meetings at which community members can step up to the podium, ask questions of both her and the Board Members on any D181 topic, and receive answers. Each time, the administration has said it would consider Town Hall Meetings in the future. Yet once again, this year's proposed plans do not include them.
Rather, the same format is given to the Community Engagement Meetings that will be offered twice this year. Specific topics of discussion will be selected ahead of time, presentations will be given by Dr. Schuster and then small groups of community members, facilitated by administrators, will discuss questions formulated by the administration. The only difference will be that the sessions will end with a "whole group share-out period and discussion of next steps." Community members, who have attended past Community Engagement Meetings, know that limiting the topics and questions discussed by the small groups has not been effective. Surveys previously completed by parents have voiced this criticism and called for Town Hall Meetings. We also know that there has been, at best, limited time allowed for parents to ask questions at other "informational" sessions that were hosted by the administration last year on curriculum issues, and there is no expectation that significant time will be allotted for this "whole group share-out period."
Yet, Dr. Schuster continues to refuse to propose scheduling even one Town Hall Meeting for the upcoming school year. There is no opportunity for a public and truly open, transparent, two way exchange of questions, answers and ideas on ANY RELEVANT D181 Topic between parents, teachers, the Board members and Dr. Schuster. Public Comment during regular board meetings does not provide this opportunity, since comments are a one way street -- community members make a comment or ask a question and the Board does not respond, or occasionally, Dr. Schuster says she will "get back" to them individually.
We hope that during the 8/12 Meeting, one or more Board Members will request that at least one (and ideally ONE PER QUARTER) Town Hall Meeting be hosted during the 2013-2014 school year. Until this type of opportunity is offered, the Board and Dr. Schuster will not have taken all necessary steps to be more transparent and truly engage the community.
Finally, we make one additional note. We eagerly await Dr. Schuster's Blog (as announced in the Board Report on Community Engagement plans) -- sharing "news and information" about the district. We encourage readers to follow that Blog (as well as ours) and submit comments to Dr. Schuster's posts.