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June 17, 2019

6/12/2019 4:06:00 PM
School Board leadership needed

Governing is hard. In the middle of governance are policy making and administration of that policy and direct responsibility for the executive staff of the organization, here the La Conner School District’s. For a school district’s board of directors, governing starts with a personal vision as well as endorsement of the district’s vision. Each director starts with an election – or an appointment until an election. School board directors represent the district’s residents, overseeing the school system for them.
It is not a paying job, but a school board works for the school district’s residents: parents, non-parents, retirees and school staff who live in the district.
Critically, those living in the district fund the school system as its source of income: They levy and tax themselves.
Governance is a process that recognizes and respects the role of leaders and constituents – the governed.
Yet the La Conner School District Board of Directors has been strangely and eerily quiet this year.
Elected board of directors must do more than administer and appear in public to rotely carry out proscribed duties. Again, school boards are elected officials. Here, they are the official and legal face of La Conner’s most important institution.
A school board starts its relationship with its community by listening. Listening is more than hearing. Board members have the responsibility to take in concerns, facts, questions, suggestions, rhetoric and polemics. Not everything said is an opinion. Everything said has to be evaluated. Everything said deserves more than an acknowledgement that the speaker spoke.
Hearing is not enough. Relationships are two way, with each side responding to the heart of the issues put before them. The staff and the citizens filling the meeting room are the Board’s constituents. Their concerns and grievances must not only be heard but must also be given responses. Silence has not served anyone well.
If the extent of a board’s response is “thank you,” without engagement, the board’s relationship with its constituencies is weak or, really, nonexistent.
Not engaging is a decision. This Board is not serving its constituents or the District staff by staying quiet.
This Board must engage in dialogue. That is what a relationship is, the call and response of discussion, each side experiencing being listened to proven by words spoken by the other party.
Boards – this Board – must both govern and lead. As retiring district para-educator Bill Massey told the Board during public comments May 20, “Care about your employees. They are your employees.”
Any school board must do more than approve agendas and resolutions shaped by the district superintendent. This School Board must show that it equally values all the district’s employees and will both listen and engage in open – even if it is behind closed doors – and honest dialogue.
The students are the reason the school district exists. Teachers and staff hold the students’ futures in their hands. Teachers are not at their best and cannot focus loving attention on their students in a tense environment full of discord and distrust.
The school board has shown its commitment and support for Dr. Meissner in the last two months. Its complete silence – its apparent deafness to the concerns of teachers, staff, students and residents is disturbing.
How to salvage this downward spiral? Living up to the explicit policies and principles the Board has endorsed, as brought up in the union leaders’ letter, for open communication and providing a caring environment is a start.
The La Conner School District Board of Directors must prove the words they have approved are true, starting with them, starting with the staff for whom they are responsible.
Where will this lead? Like the high school graduates they fledged last week, the Directors must step bravely and forthrightly into an uncertain future.
Whatever course of action they take, the Directors must govern. They must lead. They must be brave.
To do well by the students, the Directors must honor the true stories their employees are telling them. 

Related Links:
• Ken Stern

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