Last week we had the annual "school board retreat", a pair of back-to-back 6 hour meetings that kick off our board activities for the year. Amusingly, due to public meeting laws the retreat had to be opened to the public like any other meeting. I have to say, I am impressed with the one union rep (Maureen, I think) who came at the beginning of the first day & managed to endure for nearly all 6 hours, despite having to quietly watch without participating.
The first day was led by a management consultant, who had us do quick surveys to figure out our Myers-Briggs personality categories & discuss how they would affect our communication. There was probably some value here in breaking the ice & helping us to discuss things as a team, though there were definitely long periods that felt like a Dilbert cartoon. The second day got more concrete, discussing issues that would be facing us in the upcoming school year.
The most contentious debate was on the board-superintendent working agreement. I strongly disagreed with one clause in there, requiring each board member to "publicly support" the vote of the majority, even if they disagreed with it. As I have mentioned before in this blog, I think clear and open communication with the public is an important duty of the board-- and this includes honesty about when I think the district is going in the wrong direction. I won't complain endlessly about every lost vote, but I want to reserve the right to rally the public to pressure the board to change a bad decision. After much wrangling, we settled on compromise language that we would all "publicly accept" the vote of the majority. This is reasonable, as even if I want to change a decision, I will acknowledge when relevant that the decision I disagree with is the current district policy.
Some other discussion highlights of the retreat include:
- Podcasting board meetings. We revisited the discussion from the last meeting, about recording our meetings. As I learned the hard way, since our last meeting didn't result in a vote on this topic, or a formal request to staff, nothing happened even though we had discussed it. Now we have directed our Communications Director to investigate options for doing this.
- Emancipation from the ESDs. The ESDs, or Education Service Districts, are local monopolies chartered by the state in each region to provide secondary services to schools. As you may recall, I have been critical of the ESDs in the past , since in general open markets provide services more efficiently than monopolies. Superintendent Scott told us that under a new state law, we can withdraw 65% of our ESD funds and spend them to purchase services elsewhere. He is going to investigate the costs of external services and prepare a report for the next meeting. I think this is a great step forward; my main worry is whether the existence of ESDs has prevented the market from offering these services at all in Oregon.
- English Language Learners. Some interesting discussion about ELL programs. I mentioned that during the campaign, some Mexican-American consituents had contacted me very angrily about their children being put in biligual programs instead of English-only, which was their parents' preference. I was told that under current Hillsboro policy, placement in ELL/bilingual programs is always by explicit parental choice. If you know of any specific case where someone was put in such a program against their parents' wishes, please contact me with the details.
- The Strategic Plan. Lots of time discussing the district's strategic plan and how we will measure success. We gave lots of suggestions, and the staff will return in a future meeting with a proposal for key measurements. What I'm watching for here is to make sure we are pursuing results, rather than process. For example, I don't care if each teacher spent
hours in professional development classes-- I care if the students learned more in the end.
Anyway, as always, be sure to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have comments or personal experience with any of these topics. And if you want to chat more, be sure to show up for my next constituent coffee, on Saturday 9/7, 10am, at the Human Bean Coffeehouse at 10th & Oak.