• Emily Berry

Who's the Boss?July 11 Special and Regular Meetings Preview

This post first appeared on my original site July 10, 2017


First up, interestingly (and unfortunately for me, because I can't be there at 5:30) there is a special board meeting, set for 5:30 at SHS in the board meeting room (first floor, room #116). The meeting notice says the board will discuss its governance model, which has been the subject of much debate and my own criticism.

Board President Paru Shah was kind enough to answer by email when I asked for more information about the special meeting:

"The special meeting is just a continuation of the board retreat, where we are going over board policies to ensure the team is all on the same page. Specifically, we want to talk about board/superintendent roles and responsibilities (Board Policy BSR 4) and Superintendent communication to the Board (OE 8)."

The board retreat she referenced was in June -- a session at the high school that was really only a "retreat" in the sense that sitting in an over-air-conditioned conference room with a couple of consultants and a box lunch is a retreat. Not super ritzy, though apparently we do pay for two Coherent Governance consultants to travel here for these sessions on a regular basis.

The other key thing about a "retreat" versus a regular meeting, of course, is that because the board doesn't take any official action, the topics of conversation and points of debate are really only known to attendees. Anyone could attend because it's public, but because these are held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. I assume that like me, most people with school-age children who would be most keenly interested in the board's work are not able to give up a day's work or find childcare just to attend. These retreats are not audio-recorded or videotaped like the regular meetings, and the minutes do not capture conversation.

So, back to Tuesday's special meeting -- if the two policies Dr. Shah mentioned are under discussion, there's likely to be a pretty significant conversation happening. These policies are the ones that govern the balance of power between the Superintendent and the school board, so they're fundamental to the way the district is run. I talked about this a lot during the campaign, so it's no secret that I think our district has swung too far in the direction of an all-powerful Superintendent with the board as advisors -- and too often, cheerleaders rather than skeptics.

It's not that I have any strenuous objection to the way the current Superintendent operates (not that he's perfect, either) -- but ironically it's the tales of his predecessor that really make me think that no matter who is the top administrator, the board ought to be closely watching operations, not just setting guardrails for the administrators. So I'm pretty curious how this conversation around board/superintendent roles unfolds. There is one item on the agenda for the regular meeting that may be the reason for this earlier special one ... see item 4 below.

The board's regular meeting will kick off at 7 p.m. in the high school library (second floor).

Keeping in line with the last few meetings, this agenda is packed!:

1) A report from Jeff Cyganiak, director of Pupil Services, on how well our district is meeting "Operational Expectations" around the schools' Learning Environment. The report starts off with a "good news/bad news" summary. The good news is that 85% of students did not get any kind of behavioral write-up during last school year. The bad news puts a big ugly hole in that helium balloon, however: "only 30% of staff agree that all staff handle student discipline consistently." Whoa. The "operational expectation" is for 90% of staff to agree with that statement. So, as the report acknowledges, there's some room for improvement there, to put it mildly.

I would be remiss in failing to note that at multiple "linkage" meetings I attended when behavioral was raised as a problem, while the board and Superintendent did not entirely dismiss the issue, but parents who were critical heard more than once that their feelings were in direct contrast to what teachers were telling the administrators. We were told that teachers did not see a problem with behavior. When I and others pointed out that perhaps those teachers were a) not a representative sample, or b) responding like any other human by generally telling their boss what their boss wants to hear, we got some static back. This survey response validates what parents were saying, and I'm really glad to see it show up in this report in black and white, along with an acknowledgement of the comments that came out in linkages. Mr. Cyganiak notes that his response will be -- as previously announced -- to work with a group of stakeholders to review and revise the student Code of Conduct over the next school year. Is that enough? If you have thoughts about this, please attend the meeting and speak, or write to your board members.

I did also notice that the survey responses about feeling supported academically were pretty ho-hum -- not the kind of scores I'd expect to see from a top-tier school system in a relatively affluent community like ours. Do our kids not know about the support they have, or are they fairly scoring their academic support as kind of average?

One other significant data point I hope to hear discussed: 81% of students surveyed last year said they feel safe at school (Shorewood average is 3.28 on a 4-point scale, comparative school districts average 3.23). To me, saying you're safe at school is such a low bar, the "agree" score should be 100%, or maybe 99% to account for people accidentally choosing the wrong box or worrying about a blocked fire exit during an assembly. No one should feel physically or emotionally threatened at school. What can we do to make that happen?

All that and we're just getting started!

2) Superintendent Bryan Davis will update the board on the state budget process. The governor proposed slightly better per-pupil funding in the next biennial budget, but the state legislature may or may not accept that recommendation. The state budget is hugely significant to our district's operations, but we have so little say in it (other than urging our elected officials to fund our schools) that I won't devote a ton of time to it right this minute.

3) The board will consider a resolution to declare the district a "Sanctuary" for undocumented students, meaning district employees will not aid law enforcement in questioning or detaining undocumented students or their families. Hooray for this. I can say I don't expect any argument against this, and it's one of the reasons I live here. What a sad world we live in where this has to be explicitly stated, but since it does, I'm glad we are declaring our district as a safe place for all students (see above -- everyone should feel safe at school).

4) Here we are again, reiterating the authority of the superintendent to stand firmly between teachers and staff and the board members on the other side. The board will consider a revision to a policy just adopted in February, governing staff-board communications. I wonder if this latest revision is in response to conversation at the retreat, because it has to do generally with the governance model for the district. This latest revision specifically says that if a district employee has a concern about the Superintendent, then the employee should bring the concern to the board president. It also notably removes mention of an employee's right to an appeal where the appeals process includes the board. Maybe there is no such appeal process?

This policy is a sticky one. I completely understand needing to protect teachers or administrators from board members trying to create work for them, or meddling in their day-to-day work. It makes sense for communications to run in that direction through the superintendent rather than from board members to staff. But I am struggling to imagine that teachers and employees would on an impulse reach out to board members to complain or raise a concern. It's already very clear from other board policies who is running things on a day to day basis. Without a union, every district employee is already very vulnerable, and I would think very unlikely to just on a whim contact the board with a petty complaint unworthy of their attention. Maybe I'm wrong -- if I am, I hope that becomes clear in discussion of this policy. Maybe the board is getting all kinds of communications that should be going to the Superintendent. But if that's happening all the time despite the very clear balance of power between the Superintendent and board, maybe the board should be acting on those communications rather than simply trying to reroute them.

The revision also kind of lamely notes that the board will "hold regular Linkages with staff representatives to directly discuss topics of interest." It does not note that the superintendent is at those linkages. Again, human nature I'm afraid is going to keep any bad news or complaint from coming up while everyone's boss is in the room. Sorry if that's terribly cynical -- I just think the board should really be a little more honest with itself -- bi-annual linkages are not a replacement for frank conversation about what it's like to teach in our schools and what is making teachers' jobs harder or could be done to make them easier. Those are tough conversations -- I understand wanting to route them to another inbox, but this is an elected position that comes with some unpleasant conversations. I'm disappointed to see them insisting so strenuously that the Superintendent be the sole arbiter of what they hear and do not hear from the people who are in our schools' classrooms, hallways and offices all day.

5) Some interesting teacher hires and resignations ... we seem to be losing a lot of special education staff, but maybe that's the nature of the job or something to do with the job market. Also, a new high school science teacher to teach a new section of Physics -- this is an additional position because the SHS science teacher is needed at the intermediate school.

Please come, if you weren't up late at the Village Board meeting (or maybe if you were, and you're still fired up and feeling civic-minded!)

One quick note: I think district staff have been slammed lately and the June board meeting videos have not been posted. I did miss the June 27 meeting but haven't been able to post anything about it because the video isn't up yet. I promise to update when I can!

First up, interestingly (and unfortunately for me, because I can't be there at 5:30) there is a special board meeting, set for 5:30 at SHS in the board meeting room (first floor, room #116). The meeting notice says the board will discuss its governance model, which has been the subject of much debate and my own criticism.

Board President Paru Shah was kind enough to answer by email when I asked for more information about the special meeting:

"The special meeting is just a continuation of the board retreat, where we are going over board policies to ensure the team is all on the same page. Specifically, we want to talk about board/superintendent roles and responsibilities (Board Policy BSR 4) and Superintendent communication to the Board (OE 8)."

The board retreat she referenced was in June -- a session at the high school that was really only a "retreat" in the sense that sitting in an over-air-conditioned conference room with a couple of consultants and a box lunch is a retreat. Not super ritzy, though apparently we do pay for two Coherent Governance consultants to travel here for these sessions on a regular basis.

The other key thing about a "retreat" versus a regular meeting, of course, is that because the board doesn't take any official action, the topics of conversation and points of debate are really only known to attendees. Anyone could attend because it's public, but because these are held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. I assume that like me, most people with school-age children who would be most keenly interested in the board's work are not able to give up a day's work or find childcare just to attend. These retreats are not audio-recorded or videotaped like the regular meetings, and the minutes do not capture conversation.

So, back to Tuesday's special meeting -- if the two policies Dr. Shah mentioned are under discussion, there's likely to be a pretty significant conversation happening. These policies are the ones that govern the balance of power between the Superintendent and the school board, so they're fundamental to the way the district is run. I talked about this a lot during the campaign, so it's no secret that I think our district has swung too far in the direction of an all-powerful Superintendent with the board as advisors -- and too often, cheerleaders rather than skeptics.

It's not that I have any strenuous objection to the way the current Superintendent operates (not that he's perfect, either) -- but ironically it's the tales of his predecessor that really make me think that no matter who is the top administrator, the board ought to be closely watching operations, not just setting guardrails for the administrators. So I'm pretty curious how this conversation around board/superintendent roles unfolds. There is one item on the agenda for the regular meeting that may be the reason for this earlier special one ... see item 4 below.

The board's regular meeting will kick off at 7 p.m. in the high school library (second floor).

Keeping in line with the last few meetings, this agenda is packed!:

1) A report from Jeff Cyganiak, director of Pupil Services, on how well our district is meeting "Operational Expectations" around the schools' Learning Environment. The report starts off with a "good news/bad news" summary. The good news is that 85% of students did not get any kind of behavioral write-up during last school year. The bad news puts a big ugly hole in that helium balloon, however: "only 30% of staff agree that all staff handle student discipline consistently." Whoa. The "operational expectation" is for 90% of staff to agree with that statement. So, as the report acknowledges, there's some room for improvement there, to put it mildly.

I would be remiss in failing to note that at multiple "linkage" meetings I attended when behavioral was raised as a problem, while the board and Superintendent did not entirely dismiss the issue, but parents who were critical heard more than once that their feelings were in direct contrast to what teachers were telling the administrators. We were told that teachers did not see a problem with behavior. When I and others pointed out that perhaps those teachers were a) not a representative sample, or b) responding like any other human by generally telling their boss what their boss wants to hear, we got some static back. This survey response validates what parents were saying, and I'm really glad to see it show up in this report in black and white, along with an acknowledgement of the comments that came out in linkages. Mr. Cyganiak notes that his response will be -- as previously announced -- to work with a group of stakeholders to review and revise the student Code of Conduct over the next school year. Is that enough? If you have thoughts about this, please attend the meeting and speak, or write to your board members.

I did also notice that the survey responses about feeling supported academically were pretty ho-hum -- not the kind of scores I'd expect to see from a top-tier school system in a relatively affluent community like ours. Do our kids not know about the support they have, or are they fairly scoring their academic support as kind of average?

One other significant data point I hope to hear discussed: 81% of students surveyed last year said they feel safe at school (Shorewood average is 3.28 on a 4-point scale, comparative school districts average 3.23). To me, saying you're safe at school is such a low bar, the "agree" score should be 100%, or maybe 99% to account for people accidentally choosing the wrong box or worrying about a blocked fire exit during an assembly. No one should feel physically or emotionally threatened at school. What can we do to make that happen?

All that and we're just getting started!

2) Superintendent Bryan Davis will update the board on the state budget process. The governor proposed slightly better per-pupil funding in the next biennial budget, but the state legislature may or may not accept that recommendation. The state budget is hugely significant to our district's operations, but we have so little say in it (other than urging our elected officials to fund our schools) that I won't devote a ton of time to it right this minute.

3) The board will consider a resolution to declare the district a "Sanctuary" for undocumented students, meaning district employees will not aid law enforcement in questioning or detaining undocumented students or their families. Hooray for this. I can say I don't expect any argument against this, and it's one of the reasons I live here. What a sad world we live in where this has to be explicitly stated, but since it does, I'm glad we are declaring our district as a safe place for all students (see above -- everyone should feel safe at school).

4) Here we are again, reiterating the authority of the superintendent to stand firmly between teachers and staff and the board members on the other side. The board will consider a revision to a policy just adopted in February, governing staff-board communications. I wonder if this latest revision is in response to conversation at the retreat, because it has to do generally with the governance model for the district. This latest revision specifically says that if a district employee has a concern about the Superintendent, then the employee should bring the concern to the board president. It also notably removes mention of an employee's right to an appeal where the appeals process includes the board. Maybe there is no such appeal process?

This policy is a sticky one. I completely understand needing to protect teachers or administrators from board members trying to create work for them, or meddling in their day-to-day work. It makes sense for communications to run in that direction through the superintendent rather than from board members to staff. But I am struggling to imagine that teachers and employees would on an impulse reach out to board members to complain or raise a concern. It's already very clear from other board policies who is running things on a day to day basis. Without a union, every district employee is already very vulnerable, and I would think very unlikely to just on a whim contact the board with a petty complaint unworthy of their attention. Maybe I'm wrong -- if I am, I hope that becomes clear in discussion of this policy. Maybe the board is getting all kinds of communications that should be going to the Superintendent. But if that's happening all the time despite the very clear balance of power between the Superintendent and board, maybe the board should be acting on those communications rather than simply trying to reroute them.

The revision also kind of lamely notes that the board will "hold regular Linkages with staff representatives to directly discuss topics of interest." It does not note that the superintendent is at those linkages. Again, human nature I'm afraid is going to keep any bad news or complaint from coming up while everyone's boss is in the room. Sorry if that's terribly cynical -- I just think the board should really be a little more honest with itself -- bi-annual linkages are not a replacement for frank conversation about what it's like to teach in our schools and what is making teachers' jobs harder or could be done to make them easier. Those are tough conversations -- I understand wanting to route them to another inbox, but this is an elected position that comes with some unpleasant conversations. I'm disappointed to see them insisting so strenuously that the Superintendent be the sole arbiter of what they hear and do not hear from the people who are in our schools' classrooms, hallways and offices all day.

5) Some interesting teacher hires and resignations ... we seem to be losing a lot of special education staff, but maybe that's the nature of the job or something to do with the job market. Also, a new high school science teacher to teach a new section of Physics -- this is an additional position because the SHS science teacher is needed at the intermediate school.

Please come, if you weren't up late at the Village Board meeting (or maybe if you were, and you're still fired up and feeling civic-minded!)

One quick note: I think district staff have been slammed lately and the June board meeting videos have not been posted. I did miss the June 27 meeting but haven't been able to post anything about it because the video isn't up yet. I promise to update when I can!

First up, interestingly (and unfortunately for me, because I can't be there at 5:30) there is a special board meeting, set for 5:30 at SHS in the board meeting room (first floor, room #116). The meeting notice says the board will discuss its governance model, which has been the subject of much debate and my own criticism.

Board President Paru Shah was kind enough to answer by email when I asked for more information about the special meeting:

"The special meeting is just a continuation of the board retreat, where we are going over board policies to ensure the team is all on the same page. Specifically, we want to talk about board/superintendent roles and responsibilities (Board Policy BSR 4) and Superintendent communication to the Board (OE 8)."

The board retreat she referenced was in June -- a session at the high school that was really only a "retreat" in the sense that sitting in an over-air-conditioned conference room with a couple of consultants and a box lunch is a retreat. Not super ritzy, though apparently we do pay for two Coherent Governance consultants to travel here for these sessions on a regular basis.

The other key thing about a "retreat" versus a regular meeting, of course, is that because the board doesn't take any official action, the topics of conversation and points of debate are really only known to attendees. Anyone could attend because it's public, but because these are held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. I assume that like me, most people with school-age children who would be most keenly interested in the board's work are not able to give up a day's work or find childcare just to attend. These retreats are not audio-recorded or videotaped like the regular meetings, and the minutes do not capture conversation.

So, back to Tuesday's special meeting -- if the two policies Dr. Shah mentioned are under discussion, there's likely to be a pretty significant conversation happening. These policies are the ones that govern the balance of power between the Superintendent and the school board, so they're fundamental to the way the district is run. I talked about this a lot during the campaign, so it's no secret that I think our district has swung too far in the direction of an all-powerful Superintendent with the board as advisors -- and too often, cheerleaders rather than skeptics.

It's not that I have any strenuous objection to the way the current Superintendent operates (not that he's perfect, either) -- but ironically it's the tales of his predecessor that really make me think that no matter who is the top administrator, the board ought to be closely watching operations, not just setting guardrails for the administrators. So I'm pretty curious how this conversation around board/superintendent roles unfolds. There is one item on the agenda for the regular meeting that may be the reason for this earlier special one ... see item 4 below.

The board's regular meeting will kick off at 7 p.m. in the high school library (second floor).

Keeping in line with the last few meetings, this agenda is packed!:

1) A report from Jeff Cyganiak, director of Pupil Services, on how well our district is meeting "Operational Expectations" around the schools' Learning Environment. The report starts off with a "good news/bad news" summary. The good news is that 85% of students did not get any kind of behavioral write-up during last school year. The bad news puts a big ugly hole in that helium balloon, however: "only 30% of staff agree that all staff handle student discipline consistently." Whoa. The "operational expectation" is for 90% of staff to agree with that statement. So, as the report acknowledges, there's some room for improvement there, to put it mildly.

I would be remiss in failing to note that at multiple "linkage" meetings I attended when behavioral was raised as a problem, while the board and Superintendent did not entirely dismiss the issue, but parents who were critical heard more than once that their feelings were in direct contrast to what teachers were telling the administrators. We were told that teachers did not see a problem with behavior. When I and others pointed out that perhaps those teachers were a) not a representative sample, or b) responding like any other human by generally telling their boss what their boss wants to hear, we got some static back. This survey response validates what parents were saying, and I'm really glad to see it show up in this report in black and white, along with an acknowledgement of the comments that came out in linkages. Mr. Cyganiak notes that his response will be -- as previously announced -- to work with a group of stakeholders to review and revise the student Code of Conduct over the next school year. Is that enough? If you have thoughts about this, please attend the meeting and speak, or write to your board members.

I did also notice that the survey responses about feeling supported academically were pretty ho-hum -- not the kind of scores I'd expect to see from a top-tier school system in a relatively affluent community like ours. Do our kids not know about the support they have, or are they fairly scoring their academic support as kind of average?

One other significant data point I hope to hear discussed: 81% of students surveyed last year said they feel safe at school (Shorewood average is 3.28 on a 4-point scale, comparative school districts average 3.23). To me, saying you're safe at school is such a low bar, the "agree" score should be 100%, or maybe 99% to account for people accidentally choosing the wrong box or worrying about a blocked fire exit during an assembly. No one should feel physically or emotionally threatened at school. What can we do to make that happen?

All that and we're just getting started!

2) Superintendent Bryan Davis will update the board on the state budget process. The governor proposed slightly better per-pupil funding in the next biennial budget, but the state legislature may or may not accept that recommendation. The state budget is hugely significant to our district's operations, but we have so little say in it (other than urging our elected officials to fund our schools) that I won't devote a ton of time to it right this minute.

3) The board will consider a resolution to declare the district a "Sanctuary" for undocumented students, meaning district employees will not aid law enforcement in questioning or detaining undocumented students or their families. Hooray for this. I can say I don't expect any argument against this, and it's one of the reasons I live here. What a sad world we live in where this has to be explicitly stated, but since it does, I'm glad we are declaring our district as a safe place for all students (see above -- everyone should feel safe at school).

4) Here we are again, reiterating the authority of the superintendent to stand firmly between teachers and staff and the board members on the other side. The board will consider a revision to a policy just adopted in February, governing staff-board communications. I wonder if this latest revision is in response to conversation at the retreat, because it has to do generally with the governance model for the district. This latest revision specifically says that if a district employee has a concern about the Superintendent, then the employee should bring the concern to the board president. It also notably removes mention of an employee's right to an appeal where the appeals process includes the board. Maybe there is no such appeal process?

This policy is a sticky one. I completely understand needing to protect teachers or administrators from board members trying to create work for them, or meddling in their day-to-day work. It makes sense for communications to run in that direction through the superintendent rather than from board members to staff. But I am struggling to imagine that teachers and employees would on an impulse reach out to board members to complain or raise a concern. It's already very clear from other board policies who is running things on a day to day basis. Without a union, every district employee is already very vulnerable, and I would think very unlikely to just on a whim contact the board with a petty complaint unworthy of their attention. Maybe I'm wrong -- if I am, I hope that becomes clear in discussion of this policy. Maybe the board is getting all kinds of communications that should be going to the Superintendent. But if that's happening all the time despite the very clear balance of power between the Superintendent and board, maybe the board should be acting on those communications rather than simply trying to reroute them.

The revision also kind of lamely notes that the board will "hold regular Linkages with staff representatives to directly discuss topics of interest." It does not note that the superintendent is at those linkages. Again, human nature I'm afraid is going to keep any bad news or complaint from coming up while everyone's boss is in the room. Sorry if that's terribly cynical -- I just think the board should really be a little more honest with itself -- bi-annual linkages are not a replacement for frank conversation about what it's like to teach in our schools and what is making teachers' jobs harder or could be done to make them easier. Those are tough conversations -- I understand wanting to route them to another inbox, but this is an elected position that comes with some unpleasant conversations. I'm disappointed to see them insisting so strenuously that the Superintendent be the sole arbiter of what they hear and do not hear from the people who are in our schools' classrooms, hallways and offices all day.

5) Some interesting teacher hires and resignations ... we seem to be losing a lot of special education staff, but maybe that's the nature of the job or something to do with the job market. Also, a new high school science teacher to teach a new section of Physics -- this is an additional position because the SHS science teacher is needed at the intermediate school.

Please come, if you weren't up late at the Village Board meeting (or maybe if you were, and you're still fired up and feeling civic-minded!)

One quick note: I think district staff have been slammed lately and the June board meeting videos have not been posted. I did miss the June 27 meeting but haven't been able to post anything about it because the video isn't up yet. I promise to update when I can!

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Emily Berry

Shorewood, WI 53211

emily@berryschoolsblog.com