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School board, principals meet to work on collaboration

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – Miscommunication, unprofessionalism and a lack of trust were some concerns raised by Green Bay principals in a meeting with the school board Thursday, Jan. 30.

The unprecedented meeting, which was initiated and run by principals, was intended to help foster stronger collaboration between the two parties, and shine a light on issues administration sees as problem areas.

“We hope this meeting will result in a new beginning for the relationship between the board and building administrators – a restart if you will,” said Tammy VanDyke, principal of Leonardo Da Vinci School for Gifted Learners. “The trusting relationship between administration and the school board has declined in the last few years. We are not sure why this has happened, but we came to this gathering not to complain, but to problem-solve. To celebrate what is going well, and identify challenges that can be addressed.”

Jesse Brinkmann, principal of Langlade Elementary School, agreed, saying the meeting wasn’t about pointing fingers, but about better understanding the current reality of the working relationship between board members and school principals.

“This meeting is not intended to have building leaders tell board members how they should operate,” he said. “It is our desire to work together to best support each other, our committed students, our amazing staff members and the community.”

Concerns were laid out on the table, literally, with principals and school board members writing down things they see as current positives and challenges on post-it notes in four different topic areas: relationships and trust, the decision making process, professionalism and other issues.

Meeting facilitators gathered the notes and clumped them together based on similarities, before discussing them as a whole.

One thing everyone at the meeting could agree on was the focus should, and needs to be, on the students.

Other positives included the desire by all to work together, the visibility of board members in schools and the board’s desire to seek information on issues when making decisions.

Some concerns included principals feeling board members don’t trust them, the need for a clearer protocol on how board decisions are made, the need to ask for more input from building administration when making decisions and an overwhelming concern of how social media is used by board members.

“I don’t want to underplay how clearly that (how social media is used) came through as a form of professionalism, or lack there of,” said Nancy Schultz, principal at Webster Elementary Children’s Center for Integrated Arts. “The unprofessional use of social media came across a lot.”

Overall, there was a positive response from all present about the meeting, and many seemed open to having a similar meeting in the future.

“Obviously, there are times when the board does things that principals may or may not like,” said School Board President Brenda Warren. “We’re not in this meeting to have everybody leave necessarily agreeing on the issues, but agreeing on how we can best work for each other so the kids are getting what they need in the school. The better we work with principals, and the better they can do their job, the better it is for kids.”

Communication struggles are not unfamiliar to the board.

Last year, trustees voted to spend nearly $6,000 of professional development funds on two outside facilitators to help them work more cohesively.

From those meetings, the board adopted seven collaborative commitments, which focuses on running smoother, more efficient meetings.

Trustees now read the collaborative commitments before every regular board meeting.

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