Monday night saw something close to a conventional school board meeting for Whitewater – the routine oversight of a small school district, even during a pandemic. We will one day have meetings that are even closer to routine (yet with the challenges of poverty and malaise to be addressed).
The full agenda for the meeting is available. Updated evening of 9.29.20 with meeting video. (The best record is a recording.)
A few remarks —
1. Administrators’ Goals. Annually, Whitewater’s principals and administrators present their goals for the coming year, and half of the presentations came last night (for Curriculum & Instruction, Whitewater High School, Technology, Washington Elementary, and Lincoln Elementary.)
Other than the accomplishment of worthy goals, little that this district does could matter more than goal-setting from school principals.
I’ve embedded those goals below — all worth reviewing in full.
2. Engagement. During the board discussion, one heard what was obvious, and is now confirmed: while hundreds of parents attended online meetings to learn about school openings, only a dozen or so attended last night’s (more routine) online meeting.
There is little routine engagement with the leaders of this district and their school board. Public relations opportunities are not meaningful engagements; meaningful engagements are when parents and residents want to talk about, and hear about, schooling.
Anyone should want a full and vigorous discussion to the limits of leaders’ intellectual and scholastic abilities. Of course there will be points beyond laypeople’s understanding – that’s when one asks questions in expectation of receiving intelligible answers.
These academic leaders have notable professional credentials. This community should want them to pour forth the full measure of their abilities; these leaders should want to do so. It’s not doubt of others that underlies this view – it’s hope in, and respect for, others’ abilities.
3. Open Enrollment. There’s been more enrollment out of the district than previously. There’s a reasonable prospect that there will be a higher level of enrollment out in the future, as families choose programs closer to their academic and cultural tastes. Open enrollment allows choice, and choice (liberty) is the right policy.
Parental choice matters more than a budgetary loss. Those who leave want to leave will leave, but more importantly, those who stay will want to stay. (This is why plans to absorb part of Palmyra-Eagle were misguided, as parents in Palmyra did not want to join Whitewater. They wanted to have their own district. It’s wrong to take what others do not willingly offer.)
4. Hybrid Board Meetings. The school board voted to begin hybrid board meetings, where some board members and residents could attend in person, and others online. This is the right decision.
The board under law has the power to compel attendance of children (under penalty of truancy), and many parents have few practical options other complying with board directives to attend (as not everyone has suitable broadband or can send their children to other schools even under open enrollment).
If the board has compelled others – as it has – then it should conduct meetings under the conditions similar to those to which it has compelled those others.
That’s not ‘guilt’ — that’s the duty that comes from leading by example. Privilege well-exercised brings duty.
Those board members who are unable to attend in person can avail themselves of broadband connections that many in this district cannot afford.
5. More Virtual Options. So one hears that the district may expand (in years ahead) its virtual options (perhaps attracting others from farther way). This will only be a fair offering if those within the boundaries of the district have connections that can accommodate new virtual offerings. This district should not spend money to gain others with services its own residents cannot access.
6. Homeless Students. By the district’s count, there are over two dozen homeless students within its boundaries. If that many are homeless, many more are surely distressed. These are the economic conditions of the community, and have been for many years.
Boosterism has been a lie.
We are in Whitewater – all of us – common men and women. This has always been true. Never, however, has the community more needed someone of extraordinary charitable talents — not a politician, an appointed official, or blogger. They have roles, but not the most needed role.
And so, and so, one finds oneself waiting for someone else: Waiting for Whitewater’s Dorothy Day.