Board, principals discuss communication
A three-hour special meeting between the Baldwin School Board and the district principals came down to one simple topic -- communication.
The school board and the administrators discussed several topics during their meeting Aug. 22, including attendance boundary lines and a district organizational/evaluation chart. However, when the meeting finished, both groups agreed better communication is the answer to their problems.
"That seems to be a theme during my duration on the board," School Board President Alison Bauer said. "The board needs to communicate better with the superintendent and the public. Now everyone needs to just communicate better with everyone else. We all just need to communicate better."
Communication between the board and principals was brought up during their discussion of instructional leadership. The board has been wanting the principals to become better instructional leaders for quite some time.
That would require them to spend less time on other duties and more time in the classroom. Baldwin Junior High School principal Connie Wright said she would enjoy more time in the classrooms, but she simply can't afford to do it.
"I would love to hand some things off to other people," Wright said. "That's not what's happening and probably won't unless we win the lottery. The problems that arise need to be solved now, not tomorrow. It is so much easier to solve the problem than wait a week to have someone else solve the problem."
That led into the instructional leadership discussion. Bauer put Tom Mundinger, Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center principal, on the spot at the meeting when she asked him for his thoughts on instructional leadership.
His response created a buzz that lasted for nearly 30 minutes, because the principals were unhappy with the communication from the board.
"The sense that I've gotten over time is that you want us to pull things off of our plate to become better instructional leaders," Mundinger said. "That's the perception I've gotten over time. I've never heard anybody explain what it is. I sense the majority of the principals have the same feeling that the message from the board is that they need to be instructional leaders, not that they already are instructional leaders."
Mundinger wasn't alone on this issue. Wright also spoke out about the feeling she was receiving from the board.
"For a period of time that message was being beaten into our heads, at least on a monthly basis," Wright said of being an instructional leader.
However, school board members were quick to say they didn't intend to make the principals feel that way.
"That was never a message that we intended to send to our administrators," Board Member Ruth Barkley said. "It was never supposed to be a criticism. I think all of you do an excellent job. We wanted to take things off your plate, but it's easy to see how you got that message."
Even Supt. Paul Dorathy chimed in on the conversation, saying the principals have been saying this to him for months. He was glad to see this type of discussion at the meeting.
"I am glad they are saying this stuff, because this is what I hear in my A-team (administrative team) meetings," Dorathy said. "I don't' want us to be three different entities. We need to work together to be a successful district. I feel frustrated as a superintendent because I'm caught in the middle all of the time. I think it would be better to at least have a meeting between the board and the administrators quarterly to get on the same page and talk about where we want to go."
Another example of a communication problem came from earlier this summer when the board approved the 2007-2008 contracts. The teachers were given a 6.5 percent increase, while the administrators were given a 4 percent increase.
The problem didn't stem from the amount of money, but instead from the way the Signal's story read to Mundinger and others. He was asked about what the principals did to make them sound so bad after the June 28 story came out.
"The issue for me is not 4 percent," Mundinger said. "I knew I was getting that from the beginning. That was not the issue with me. The issue is the message that was clearly sent to my parents, staff and the community members, because many people told me that was the message they perceived was sent."
The principals and the school board members agreed that better communication among everyone would be beneficial to the district. However, communication within the district was also discussed earlier at the meeting.
For almost a year, School Board Member Scott Lauridsen has been pushing for a new organizational/evaluation chart for the district. Part of his reason stems from wanting to free up the principals so they can become better instructional leaders.
The principals agreed they would like more time to do other things, but problems arise in their buildings that need to be fixed. They agreed they can't always call the transportation director or building and grounds director, because they are busy, too. Wright said she would enjoy having Gary Collins, secondary building and grounds director, in BJHS at all times, but she knows that can't happen.
"I would love this if Gary worked only in my building," Wright said. "If he just worked in our building, it would work greatly. However most of the things I jump into are safety issues or things where someone will get hurt if I don't do something."
After a brief discussion, Lauridsen said he wants the principals to attempt the new chart, where they would pass certain things to the directors in the district. He knows it will be a big change, but he wants to see if it will work at all.
"I know it will never be perfect," Lauridsen said. "It's never going to be ideal. I also know if you never try to go this way, it will never get any better. If we don't try it, things will never get better."
Once again Dorathy added his advice to the situation, which was to improve communication and give this a try.
"I guess a lot of this has to do with communication between the principals and the directors to make this work most effectively and efficiently," Dorathy said. "It's going to be hard to make this work like we want it to. We want to take some things off of the principals, but there are some things they are going to have to do."
The final discussion item last week was the attendance boundary lines for the elementary schools. The school board has been talking about this for a couple of months and they've decided to enforce the current lines before redrawing them.
The four elementary principals aren't sure what the best idea is, because any decision will make someone unhappy.
"You're going to cause a problem with some people in town having to come to one of the rural schools," said Bill Scott, Vinland Elementary Schoool principal. "Regardless of what the board makes a decision on, you can't win. You have to find out what's the best thing and most equitable thing we can do for all students. I don't know what the answer is but that's the tough question."
The school board will keep talking about the attendance lines at future meetings. The next regular school board meeting is at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at the district office.