An Open Letter to CCBOE
The last eighteen months have been very stressful for the Cheatham County school board members and the community at large. Now that the school board is starting the process of looking for a new Director of Schools to replace our current director, the school board has an opportunity to engage parents and staff as a community, moving our district forward. We agree that the school district should make efforts to provide better services and improve learning opportunities. How do school board members engage the community in these changes? Here are a few ways to foster growth and commitment to change, both with the school board and in the community:
- Avoid sudden changes. The community is going to react loudly when the board makes sudden changes to things like bus routes, school calendars, and policies with very little lead time. News stories about kids lost on bus routes or policy changes and reversals do not help our image. Our community is not against change, but we don’t like changes that take away services or are apparently made in haste.
- Engage in Clear and timely communications. Don’t tell us that the system is broken and that we need outside innovators to fix it for us. Cite a specific problem and how you intend to address it. Make sure that everyone understands what the impacts are, and give the community time to ask questions. For example, who was responsible for communicating to the Harpeth High staff that AP classes were no longer going to be offered? The communication obviously did not arrive. Moving forward is an awfully vague destination. Tell us where you want to go, and parents and staff in Cheatham County might help you push the cart.
- Be responsive to questions. The community is going to have questions when big changes occur. Ignoring the questions or claiming negativity will not pacify a parent’s desire for information. Parents will continue to ask. For example, when we started asking questions about dual enrollment classes, we got very terse answers like that’s not correct or there is a lot of gossip going around. These types of answers do not answer the very specific questions that we asked. Acknowledge and address our questions with meaningful answers.
- Do your research. Anticipate questions or possible issues that parents may raise. Make that information readily available to parents. If a director proposes sweeping changes to our school system, make the director show his/her research. Our schools have had sweeping, far reaching, changes (e.g., changing from a block system to a 7 period system in high school, dropping AP classes, changing the school calendar) and no research has been given to justify such changes. For example, when we asked about reasons or data to support the change to the 7 period day, we got a response from Dr. Webb stating that there was no data, and he did not provide a reason to support the change. Provide the community with information so that changes don’t look like personal whims.
- Be accountable. Make sure that any new director is accountable to the community for their actions. Sycamore and Cheatham Central may have moved away from AP classes a year earlier, but no one has addressed why the Harpeth High staff appeared to be uninformed. Why didn’t anyone notice that Harpeth High was still offering AP classes? More recently someone tried to assert that the handbook welcome letter was an insider setup. Do you really want to go there?
- Don’t give up the basics to save a dollar. Everyone will agree that budgets are tight and that every dollar must be spent wisely. The board may have received a really good rate for facilities maintenance in their contracts, but those savings don’t help us if our outgoing director admits in a public forum that we are violating fire codes and so backlogged on work orders that we can’t perform routine maintenance. Large HVAC units like the AAON units do require routine maintenance, and skipping maintenance to do only repairs will be much more time consuming and expensive.
- Use technology to your advantage, not for the sake of having technology. The district recently obtained a whole host of new websites that reference old technologies, which are hosted on web domains that were unnecessarily purchased. The district office has a Twitter account. Use it to provide frequent, meaningful updates to the community. Twitter can be a useful tool to disseminate information, and is only useful if it is actually used. Give us access to information on the district website. Give us a forum to ask questions and get answers. The Cheatham County community is very close knit, and information (good or bad) travels fast. You can make the claims of rampant gossip go away by providing an official information source.
- Bring back the weekly Director’s Letter to the community. At some point this year, our outgoing director stopped the weekly letters to the community. This weekly letter serves to both inform and engage. It’s a wonderful tool. Post it on the Board of Education’s website for everyone to view.
We here at KingstonSprings.org wish both current and future School Board members the very best success in finding a new director. Dianne Proffitt’s closing statement at the emergency meeting about the school district moving forward really resonates with us. Engage the community, and we’ll support you in accomplishing that goal. We may not agree with every decision, but at least we’ll understand why those decisions were made.