• Emily Berry

A Small Town Hall

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

The school board hosted their final linkage of the year Tuesday night, welcoming anyone and everyone for a Town Hall immediately before their regular meeting. Unfortunately, only a few folks showed up, including myself -- I think five total.


I walked in late, so conversation had already started about how the board communicates today and whether linkages are working. (This is your reminder that there's an online survey you should have received an emailed invitation to complete if you're a community member -- that survey includes questions about whether the district is doing a good job communicating). One good idea that came from SEED board member Sarah McEneany that I like a lot is asking staff to clip small snippets of the meeting videos to share smaller, bite-sized clips of highlights from the meeting. Every meeting is videotaped, but it's in one long take, so it's a little tough to find what you're looking for without wading through three hours of video. I think it would be great for the district to post even just the student presentations more widely (with parents' OK). If you've never been to a meeting, each one features at least one student presentation and/or recognition. What do you think? What would you want to see in short video clips?


The board members present (President Paru Shah was absent for the Town Hall for a family obligation) seemed pleased with the way linkages have been going. Linkages are regular meetings with small stakeholder groups, and are part of the board's governance model. They're meant to give people a chance to talk in a less formal setting than a full meeting to ask questions and voice concerns. The board has adjusted the format, timing and frequency over time. Whether you love them, hate them, or would like to see them tweak this model, let them know. For my part, I've seen them be painful but also have seen them be productive. I wish that this type of feedback were possible in a setting where more than just a small group could be part of the conversation -- and where that conversation is on the record. However, I recognize that a) some people don't feel comfortable in formal settings like full meetings, and b) sometimes small groups have unique concerns that would bore the pants off of the other 90% of the community. So, linkages are in my view, not the worst part of coherent governance.


The board also heard that teachers at Atwater and Lake Bluff Elementary Schools had some questions about the rationale for hiring two new Deans of Students

(one at each school). Teachers hadn't had any input into the decision, wondered why the administration would not just hire more counselors, and were questioning why the position listing didn't show that the person needed more experience, certifications or qualifications than a Bachelor's degree (there was some dispute over whether it's an undergraduate degree or teaching certificate required). I told the board last month and continue to believe these positions should be held by people who have counseling or social work backgrounds, since community discussions around mental health have shown how much kids could benefit from trained adults' help. I also would love if the person has firsthand understanding or experience supporting students of color and marginalized children, which might include kids with special needs, physical disabilities or learning disabilities -- or even kids dealing with a trauma or abuse in their past. The pressure is on -- these positions might be the most important hire of the summer for the district.


I asked a few things -- first, how the new LED sign at the high school was funded and how much it cost -- board members were not sure of the price tag, but it came from the district and not from a club, boosters or PTO.


I asked about where the food service contract awarding process was going, and that seemed like it is progressing with the help of a workgroup, but not a done deal yet, either. I'm not clear at what point parents and kids will have any voice in the process, though I am assuming that will happen. I'll try to follow up on these items and post here with follow ups.


As for the regular meeting, there were a couple of cool student presentations (they are conveniently early in the video if you want to check them out -- it wasn't posted yet as of my writing, but I would expect it will show up this week).


The bulk of the business happened when State Rep. David Bowen and State Sen. Lena Taylor, talked to the board. They came with updates on education funding and the general state of affairs in Madison. There weren't many surprises -- until the party majority and governor's office flips to Democratic, public education is going to continually come under attack, by way of insufficient funding, expansion of vouchers and general disdain for our schools. This is your reminder to vote -- every time.


The board talked with Sen. Taylor and Rep. Bowen about Open Enrollment versus the Chapter 220 programs, and whether/how there is any way to keep the racial integration goals of 220 in play. It doesn't sound like that's on the horizon, but we will see.


Thanks for reading, all. Always feel free to reach out with questions, ideas or feedback. You can reach me at emily@berryschoolsblog.com.


© 2018 by Emily Berry

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Emily Berry

Shorewood, WI 53211

emily@berryschoolsblog.com