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Whitewater Schools: Paltry “Community Input”

Update, 2.10.20 – Since this post, the location has now been changed to Whitewater High School’s more spacious and inviting library.

There’s a story in a local newspaper about a public forum for community input on the search for a permanent Whitewater school district administrator. Here’s the beginning of the newspaper’s account of the district’s efforts:

The Whitewater School Board and a consulting firm will host an open forum Feb. 18 to hear what the community wants in its next district administrator.

The forum will start at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the school district’s central office, 419 S. Elizabeth St.

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates is helping the school board with its search, according to a news release.

A few remarks:

That’s It? One session, in a small and cramped building with limited and poor seating, cannot possibly be what this school board considers a suitable forum for public input, can it?

The district’s central office can accommodate so few people that, at a series of student awards held there last year, groups had rotate in and out so that all students could appear before the board. The building is too small to accommodate large numbers.

It’s possible – if not probable – that this location is an admission that, despite being a district serving tens of thousands of residents, this board has lost the interest of even modest numbers of ordinary residents.

Where Are Employees, Building Leaders, and Elected Officials Having Their Meeting? There’s sure to be a separate employees’ forum, and there is simply no chance that meeting will be in a small, cramped space with cheap & uncomfortable chairs.

If the district expects more attendees among employees than from a community of tens of thousands, then one sees starkly the failure of community outreach.

The answer to that failure is not acceptance (of what should be unacceptable). The answer is to hold a community meeting in a better location with far more outreach than a news release here or there.

A Website Survey.  One reads that there will also be a website survey. No matter how much one appreciates the web (as I do, truly), it’s an imperfect means of outreach in a community with significant numbers of impoverished or alienated  people.

The Proper Priority at a Community Meeting. In the comments section to a post yesterday (see Ready-Made is Poorly Made), I offered a sound plan for community meetings (including – unlike these sessions, meetings where residents and officials are together). I’ll reproduce those remarks below:

Here’s a sound approach for any meeting (including other meetings where leaders should be present): those who have never been to a meeting – who are unaffiliated and unconnected – get pride of place. They get to sit where they want, and have refreshments first. Ordinary residents come before employees. Employees lower in the organizational hierarchy take precedence over those placed higher in the school system. Elected officials go last, and spend time ushering, or assisting other attendees.

No one – but no one – from the school board or paid leadership should ever take a better seat than ordinary residents. Those at the top go last (if it’s the sort of meeting where leaders should be present). In meetings with leaders, no leader should be on his or her phone, whispering distractingly, walking around disinterestedly, or sitting off to the side away from the meeting.

If this is too hard for paid or elected leaders, they should consider other areas of employment or public service.

4 comments for “Whitewater Schools: Paltry “Community Input”

  1. Attendee
    02/05/2020 at 12:17 PM

    Yeah, there’s a disconnect. It’s big. They must think it’s easier to be at central office than to hear what people have to say in a big room. You’re right that it’s a crappy building with crappy seating. Most folks do support schools but they don’t relate to lots of school discussion. Totally different from 30 years ago.

  2. J
    02/05/2020 at 12:52 PM

    So the last commenter talked about 30 years ago being different. It was more uniform/more homogenized then. It won’t be like that again.

  3. x marks the spot
    02/05/2020 at 5:17 PM

    So true!