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The statement takes one of two forms: “We need to communicate more effectively with the public” or, “Can we have a column in the newspaper?”
The comment comes from administrators and elected officials and indicates two things: first, someone has not done a particularly good job and, second, they wish to dispense propaganda, favorably shaping public perception of their activities.
The answer at The SUN to a request that a local, tax-collecting entity be allowed to write its own news is, “no.” The individual or entity is told we want newsworthy items or issues not covered by The SUN to be reported so they can be used as the starting points for articles. There is rarely a response.
“We need to learn to communicate with the public” was heard Tuesday at a meeting of the school board. Fuel for the comment are the notions that the many “good things” the district does are not being communicated and that public perception of the board is influenced by a general distrust of elected officials. As for the idea that the “good things” are not communicated, at least with regard to The SUN, the information is rarely forwarded. The district takes little interest in communicating about things other than theatrical and musical events, and sports.
As for distrust of the board and district: No amount of “communication” is going to quickly change the reputation. This problem goes back quite a way, and will take a long time to remedy completely, one small step at a time. Going back to the debacle that was the hiring and tenure of Duane Noggle as superintendent, there has been little evidence of strong leadership on the school board or by its top administrators. Ratings and rankings of education by the state have slipped; administrative changes were made that did not involve an open job search. It is likely those individuals are the right persons for the jobs … but, when you want trust?
The district went down a sorry path regarding a bond issue to pay for construction of a new campus. Where was the leadership when someone needed to assess the economic climate and the timing of the effort? Further, how many on the board asked this basic question: “Who is organizing and leading this effort? Where are the people who successfully led a bond issue campaign to build a new high school?”
Now, the board has dismissed a study group and a community process that brought them news that was not all Pollyanna positive. There was perfunctory chatter about appreciating the effort, talk about how resolute the board is to undertake strategic planning. But, the group was dismissed — a group that included solid members, including one with high-level administrative experience, at the superintendent level, at a much larger district.
The point is that communication is not the problem, as long as opportunities to communicate are exercised. Further, what communicates best are results. Improve the results and this communicates all that is necessary. Stop spending time congratulating people at meetings; let that take place where it should, at school buildings. Undertake a serious and open evaluation of district performance. Hire competent faculty, evaluate teachers honestly and demand improvement where necessary. Make demands on building principals and replace those who can’t perform. Undertake searches for administrative positions, and keep the selection process open. Avoid executive sessions whenever possible.
And don’t terminate study groups comprising skilled individuals. You may not like all of what they tell you, but it is through such groups that you “communicate” the full spectrum of information about the district.