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Green Bay school board holds first facilitator-led session

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – Frustrated, embarrassed, chaotic, pockets of disrespect, feeling undervalued, imbalance of communication, inequality of power and access.

These were just a few of the phrases trustees used to describe the challenges the school board is facing, which is creating an unfavorable imagine.

“I sometimes feel frustrated or embarrassed when we don’t interact with each other in a way that shows mutual respect,” said Eric Vanden Heuvel, a school board member. “This is a not a good look. It reflects badly on the whole district. The kids and the staff of this district deserves us to be functioning.”

Board members came together for nearly three hours Monday, June 10, for the first of multiple facilitator-led board retreats focusing on the effectiveness and efficiency of the board – this time with Beverly Scow from Wise Women Gathering Place.

Prior to the Monday night’s session, Scow spoke with each board member one-on-one, and said the one thing they all have in common is how much they care about the district.

“It’s courageous of the board to come together and talk about the not-so-good things,” Scow said. “It’s clear to me how much you all care.”

With Scow’s guidance, while hesitant at first, trustees identified behaviors the board as a whole can change and develop.

“People want to be heard,” said Trustee Kristina Shelton. “We ask for their voice and they feel its not really being heard. We have a lot of power in this room and I want to put that power to good use.”

Board members agree that for some time now the perception the board has – whether intentional or not – is that they are unapproachable and out of touch with the wants and needs of those in the district.

“It’s not always up to us to tell the people of the district what they need,” said board member Rhonda Sitnikau. “We need to listen.”

The board table environment and the act social media plays in that, both positively and negatively, was also addressed.

“People need to be able to feel safe to voice their opinions and know that it’s not going to end up on Facebook in some modified, snarky way,” said Laura McCoy school board member.

While most board members were hopeful the sessions will help them work more effectively as a board, they are all adamant about keeping their own voice.

“We aren’t trying to create groupthink,” Vanden Heuvel said. “We are not going to agree on everything and that’s not a bad thing. But we do need to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and valued.”

Board members also discussed the friction that sometimes surfaces during board meetings between board members and district staff. In recent months, those divides have noticeably widened.

“It’s okay if a vote isn’t 7-0,” said Board Vice President Andrew Becker. “That’s the nature of a board with different perspectives.”

Board members discussed briefly a recent district staff survey, which was described by McCoy as “pretty disturbing.”

“Some (staff members) want the board to work better together,” McCoy said. “I want to be able to say that that will change. We are the face of the district.”

Board members agreed that often times what is difference of opinion is taken as personal attacks.

“We should be able to say we disagree without it being seen as a personal attack,” Vanden Heuvel said. “When issues are raised, we don’t have an environment to be able to figure it out without it being seen as a personal attack. That is a culture dynamic that we need to change.”

Board President Brenda Warren remained a silent observer for much of the evening.

When asked by others about her silence; Warren said she was taking notes on things she can do better.

“I don’t disagree with most of what’s been said,” Warren said.

At times, Scow had to refocus the board to get them back on topic.

What was learned or gained from the retreat is yet to be determined.

Scow will compile the information shared at Monday’s session to bring back to the board at their next meeting. That meeting has not yet been set.

The board will also meet with facilitator Drew Howick of Howick Associates out of Madison.

The district approved up to $6,000 for facilitator retreats at its May 20 meeting, which are being paid for with the board’s professional development funds in the budget.

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