• Emily Berry

A quickie for Mardi Gras


It was a mercifully shorter meeting tonight for the School board compared to the last one, and not action-packed, but still included a few things worth noting -- particularly things to watch for in the coming months.


Before I dive into the substance of tonight's meeting, here are a few things to watch for:

  • Monday, February 26 at 6:30 p.m., the district will host an update on its strategic plan -- a new format that will feature tables where administrators will talk with attendees in small groups and update them on progress on each part of the district plans. I am most interested in its work on mental health/wellness, which has suffered and recently restarted, as I noted in a prior posts.

  • Public Comment changes could be on the way! At the time in the meeting when members can suggest or bring up future agenda items, board member Pablo Muirhead suggested potentially moving up or adding a public comment period ahead of board governance on meeting agendas so that people waiting to speak don't have to wait for the board to shuffle through its internal business. In the face of a pretty fiery sideways stare from Board President Paru Shah (whose job it is to set the agenda and manage meetings), Muirhead noted that there have been some long meetings that made it hard for public comment to happen after staff reports (perhaps in response to them) but before the hour is late. Today there is a public comment period early, but it falls prior to any board debate, so if you want to respond to something or ask a question about something that happened during the meeting, you're stuck until nearly the last spot on the agenda. I think it's a terrible way to manage the few moments when the public is invited to speak. if you think the public comment policy could use adjusting, keep an eye out for this item to show up on an agenda soon.

  • Dr. Shah said there is now a communications plan in place around the district's facilities planning, so watch for email communications and Shorewood Today to feature more information about the board's work (which includes a series of board meetings happening this spring).

  • District Business Manager Patrick Miller will ask for a policy change that would allow his staff to skip documentation for price shopping purchases between $5,000 and $10,000 -- the requirement would remain in place for higher dollar purchases. Mr. Miller described the paperwork documentation requirements as onerous for his staff, but then in the same discussion, said there were "not many" purchases that fall into that dollar window. One person's paperwork is another's transparency...I wonder why if it's such a hassle, we don't look for better software to manage the process rather than eliminating the requirement for documentation.


And as for a recap of the meeting itself:


First up was a presentation by Youth Rising Up, a student-led group focused on advocating for students of color and exploring issues of race in the high school. The student leaders reviewed their recent assembly at the high school for Black History Month, and their plans to talk about black history at our two elementary schools. I watched with mixed feelings of incredible admiration for these students and gratitude for their work, and yet a nagging sense that we are asking a lot of them that should probably be the work of the adults in our district. These students are full of energy, but is it right to ask high school students to carry this for us? (Some reading on this:

Here and here ... )

But obviously, I'm just a suburban white lady. I don't know the answer. This work has obviously been amazing for honing the students' leadership skills, and I don't mean to imply that no one else in the district is doing any work on race, just that these kids are doing a lot. Curious what others think. Credit to Superintendent Bryan Davis for verbally acknowledging the district still has a lot of work to do around race and specifically supporting black students. We do.

We also have more work to do formalizing and normalizing our observances of things like Black History Month. In the 1980s when I attended an integrated but still mostly white elementary school in Seattle, BHM festivities were sustained, serious, required of everyone at all grade levels, cross-disciplinary and beautiful. My little grade school self knew all the words to "We Shall Overcome" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing." I didn't realize until I had kids that my experience was the exception.


Second, parent Lannette Brockman spoke to the board about her concern over the district's response -- or lack therof -- to the recent suicide of SHS student. She had suggested a speaker who could help us address suicide prevention, and that idea was politely rejected by Dr. Davis, apparently without any real explanation. On further inquiry over what the administration had been doing to look into the state of SHS students' mental health, she asked about the results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which some SHS students took last semester, only to hear back that no one in the district had yet seen the data. This survey data would be full of insight about whether kids are smoking, drinking, taking drugs or engaging in other high-risk behavior, and is understood to be a decent measure of risk for early death and disability for young people. I don't blame Lannette for going to the board to ask for answers, and I hope she hears back. Board president Paru Shah said she would follow up with her.


Next up came our district audit report, which was clean an without any real noted problems. I was glad board members did ask a few clarifying questions, because the audit report is a very important document that is easy to glaze over.


In the "reflection" portion following this report, discussion was mostly around the purchasing paperwork item noted above -- we should hear about that in the next month or so because the board would have to approve the policy change.


Happy Fat Tuesday, everyone!


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Emily Berry

Shorewood, WI 53211

emily@berryschoolsblog.com