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School Board, 10.28.19: 3 Points

The Whitewater Unified School District Board met Monday night. I’ll update this post with the meeting video as soon as the school district posts the video online (as its own policy requires).

For now, three points stand out from the agenda items for the meeting.

1. Academic Presentations. There were three presentations on academic plans (from Brokopp for Lakeview Elementary, Fountain for Whitewater Middle School, and Heim for Pupil Services). There are no plans more vital for an educational institution than educational plans, and yet not one of these plans was included in the online agenda packet for community review. Almost as unfortunate, truly: it seems that the board members did not have copies of the plans available to them before the presenters spoke. This would mean that the board members saw these plans only when they were presented, and that not a single board member had a document to review beforehand.

Each and every board member should have seen, and reviewed, these presentations in advance, for consideration and in preparation of relevant questions. When an appellate court hears oral argument, the judges on that court are expected to have read the briefs, so that they can ask relevant, insightful questions of the parties. Simply sitting and listening isn’t enough. In fact, the more talented the judge, the more he or she will gain – and so society will gain – from his or her careful preparation.

I’ll send a public records request to this district’s newly-hired interim administrator (see below) requesting these presentations. They should have been in the agenda packet, the school board should have prepared thoughtful questions based on a prior review of these documents, and this district should confidently share its work online with all the community.

(For more about the district’s failure of communication for key items, see School Board, 9.16.19: Applicant Interviews and Reporting.)

2. An Interim Administrator. The district unanimously approved a contract for 2019-2020 for Dr. Jim Shaw. Dr. Shaw spoke briefly but confidently, expressing a desire to be an active administrator for Whitewater’s schools. A brief bit of background here: Dr. Shaw has a consulting firm, was formerly the superintendent of the Racine Unified School District, an adjunct professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at UW-Madison, and has had a lengthy educational career before Racine.

To hear some of his views at greater length, I’ve embedded immediately below an episode of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Joy Cardin Show for 4.17.2013 (‘Big Question: School Vouchers‘) where Dr. Shaw discusses that topic.

 

One wishes Dr. Shaw the best in his role as district administrator.

3. Palmyra-Eagle District’s Possible Dissolution. The board voted 6-1 on a resolution urging the Wisconsin legislature to accept a three-party (Whitewater, Mukwanago, and Palmyra-Eagle) consolidation plan. (Stewart dissenting.) Palmyra-Eagle may be dissolved, and if so then a dissolution board may divide that district in accordance with existing law, or the legislature may change the law to allow a three-party consolidation, and the governor may sign that legislation, etc. There are many uncertainties.

It’s the belief of a majority on this board that they should be ‘proactive,’ but it’s an understatement to say that they have not been proactive in informing their own community about the consolidation plan they’ve now urged the legislature to adopt.

In the meeting, a board member (Davis) asked in response to objections to the consolidation resolution what would be different between seeking community input and adopting the resolution without input. (That is, how would informing the public make a difference?) It’s an odd question, truly – one that deprecates responsible representation and open government (although I’m quite sure Davis didn’t mean it this way).

Consider: Could a court of nine judges, deciding that an incumbent candidate was sure to be re-elected, simply cancel a democratic election on the theory that the incumbent’s victory was inevitable? (That is, by asking: what difference would voting make?)

Voting makes all the difference over selection by a panel of judges – it is popular election, itself, that makes the choice legitimate.

In a similar way, some matters are made legitimate not by a board of seven but only after public discussion among thousands. Most in this community have heard nothing about this resolution on consolidation. Nothing at all. (In fact, the plan underlying this resolution wasn’t – just as the academic presentations weren’t – even in the meeting’s online agenda packet.)

One would happily encourage these board members to be proactive – and in this matter, proper proactivity (so to speak) would be to communicate with residents before voting on the resolution.

It’s an expression of respect and regard to reply to a point with the seriousness it deserves.

These board members are intelligent and talented (Davis is obviously so, for example), but the board discussion isn’t intellectually challenging enough to take advantage of the strengths of its members. They don’t mull topics in vigorous discussion. They are not, as it were, their own best interlocutors. Perhaps – although one cannot be sure – some are concerned about discussions becoming too contentious, and so discussion itself is limited.  Over coffee, let’s say, some of these board members could go round after round in a stimulating discussion, but in the room they hold back, and so points are dropped, made imperfectly, etc. See Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way)

There are in communication and discussion significant – and unnecessarily missed – opportunities in these meetings.

7 comments for “School Board, 10.28.19: 3 Points

  1. The Phantom Stranger
    10/29/2019 at 8:20 AM

    What was Stewart’s reason for dissenting on consolidation vote?

    • JOHN ADAMS
      10/29/2019 at 8:38 AM

      Lack of notice to the community about a resolution requesting of the Wisconsin Legislature this kind of consolidation. He’s right – this community hasn’t received information about the proposal, and knows almost nothing about the options of dissolution or three-party consolidation (a kind of consolidation that would require a change in law).

  2. Attendee
    10/29/2019 at 9:54 AM

    Nice post. Whitewater has not talked about P-E seriously AT ALL. There are lots of questions but no discussion. It’s a big deal to take over part of another district. We should be hearing about this in advance before a resolution. Maybe nothing will happen but still.

  3. J
    10/29/2019 at 12:16 PM

    This is an interesting order: academic plans first, hiring an administrator second, and Palmyra Eagle’s possible/maybe/whoknows? absorption third. Most educators including administrators would probably agree. The remarks on openness will rankle but they shouldn’t. The premise is that these board members and community are smart enough to have a dialogue about policy. That’s a genuinely optimistic/open view. (“Over coffee, let’s say, some of these board members could go round after round in a stimulating discussion.” No one who doubted people’s abilities would write this way.) It seems strange at first to say, but thank you for your optimism.

    • JOHN ADAMS
      10/29/2019 at 3:41 PM

      The order is the order from the agenda, and I agree it’s a sensible, implicit ranking of priorities.

      You know, I am an optimist. These years have proved significantly more difficult for our fellow residents than one imagined (or hoped), and so a return to normal conditions waits still longer off. For it all, our small city will yet experience better times.

      It’s sensibly observant to see intelligence and insight in others – one happily encounters these characteristics in all parts of our community. This well-founded observation is, itself, a basis of optimism.