That headline reads like one of the openings to Johnny Carson’s “Carnac” bits in which he tears open an envelope that provides the answer/connection to the two or three phrases he has mentioned. In case you’re younger than 50, here’s a sample (Wait for the sis-boom-bah joke!):

The favorite word at last night’s school board club meeting was “partnership.” I heard it so many times that I stopped counting at ten.

Here are some of the other actual education buzzwords and phrases from last night:

  • Leveraging resources
  • Enrichment
  • College-bound emphasis
  • Stakeholders (Also popular. Makes me think of folks who are about to pitch a tent.)

And these three, posted on a presentation by a new vendor:

  • Many to many value
  • Close the loop by connecting input to action
  • Engagement community

Frankly, I don’t have a clue as to what the last three mean. Perhaps it’s because I was too stunned to hear that the district is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on the program attached to this gobbledygook.

The program is called “thoughtexchange,” which is described as “Engagement solutions for leaders who put people first.” When I heard the name, I thought first of George Orwell, then of Mr. Spock, who used to conduct a “Vulcan Mind Meld” to learn what people are thinking:

Image result for vulcan mind meld gif

thoughtexchange (it’s their lowercase “t”) is a communication tool that let’s people share ideas and rate the ideas of others. Users can rate ideas by clicking on a certain number of stars.

Yes, readers, you are correct: It’s a glorified chat room; an app.

It’s also another convenient way for the district to pretend that they are listening when the truth is that they don’t really care what people have to say. See past posts for supporting evidence.

The app/chat room is going to cost you $45,000, plus an initial $3,000 for setup.

Call me crazy, but I have another idea – one that doesn’t cost anything: How about just asking people? Why not, for example, use the open houses across the campuses to assemble parents and ask them what’s working and what’s not? How about doing the same thing with students in an assembly? (That should be done 3 or 4 times a year.)

Before cavalierly tossing $48K for a chat room, how about starting with an anonymous no-cost form on the district’s website and on each school site? Something that has the following fields:

  • What do you like about the school/district?
  • What do you dislike about the school/district?
  • What suggestions do you have for improvement?
  • Would you be willing to meet to discuss your thoughts?

Something like that. Actually, this should be on all sites even with the advent of thoughtexchange.

thoughtexchange is not the problem, it is a symptom. The problems are the district’s inability to connect with the community in any meaningful way. It is a chronic problem, one that has also been documented here.

Another problem is the lack of critical thinking by the members of the school board club. There were a couple of comments and questions about the program (Trustee Vicki Snell thinks it’s “really exciting!”) but no one asked:

  • In what other districts has this been used?
  • For how long?
  • What are some of the challenges these district’s faced after implementation?
  • Has another district canceled the program? If yes, why?
  • Is there an impartial case study available to read?

They did not ask these or similar questions for a couple of reasons. First, the trustees don’t like to rock the boat or challenge staff recommendations. Oh, it happens, but usually only when public opinion seems to be against the program or proposal. (The recent AP debacle comes to mind. I have no doubt that if the public hadn’t spoken up, the program would have been changed.)

The other reason is that they are not wired to think critically. In all my years of watching and listening to the various trustees, I can count on one hand the times when I thought, “Good question!”

It’s a lower standard than you deserve.

The Illusionists

Another hot topic last night was increased campus security. Deputy/Associate/Assistant Something-or-other Russell Lee-Sung described “Raptor Visitor Management” which is poised to replace the old-fashioned paper log in required by visitors to a school campus.

Raptor will replace paper log in systems by checking a few background items for each visitor. Raptor checks whether the visitor is a registered sex offender and whether there are any existing custody issues.

This is all done with the swipe of a driver license. Once the license is swiped and the visitor is approved, Raptor spits out a sticker that means the visitor is good to go. Oh, and there was this critical-thinking question asked last night: How long does it take to get a sticker?

Checking for sex offenders is not a bad thing, neither is checking for custody issues, though my thought was that custody stuff was already covered through the form that parents fill out each year listing who can and cannot pick up a student.

Trustee Martha Fluor asked a couple of good practical questions one addressing those who do not have a driver license and one about people attending on-campus events such as a play or football game. Will all those event attendees require screening?

My question: What about contractors working on campus? No mention last night and no one askd. Even if contractors are screened and pass the Raptor test, there is no checking of a criminal background for other offenses and therefore no guarantee of safety. I don’t know if the district is requiring background checks for all outside contractors who work on campus but I doubt it. If I’m wrong, someone will let me know and I will report it here.

So Raptor is in the works, but its protection is limited. It will not stop a shooter and that should have been made crystal clear last night, but it wasn’t. And according to years and years of statistics, it won’t stop child abuse by a registered sex offender. That’s because nearly every child abuse incident is perpetrated by someone known to the family.

But last night, there was almost no discussion on setting expectations, which will lead, sadly, to a false sense of security; to an illusion.

There was no discussion on the progress being made to protect staff and students from a shooter.

And as with thoughtexchange, these questions were not asked:

  • In what other districts has this been used?
  • For how long?
  • What are some of the challenges these district’s faced after implementation?
  • Has another district canceled the program? If yes, why?
  • Is there an impartial case study available to read?

Mental Fitness

The U.S. is crawling toward the concept that mental health issues should be treated with as much attention and resources as physical health.

While I don’t think the district’s mental health program is moving quickly or far enough, I am encouraged by the progress that is being made.

Last night, Phil D’Agostino, Director of Student and Community Services, presented an update on the district’s mental health initiatives. Among other things, D’Agostino reminded everyone that statistically, 15% of the district’s students are suffering from some level of chronic anxiety or depression.

This is not nervousness before a test or depression because someone said “no” to a prom date request. These are students who experience ongoing, unspecified anxiety or depression and need help.

These are the students more likely to harm themselves or harm others.

Among other developments, D’Agostino reported that each school website will feature a confidential suicide or mental health hotline number. I did not catch whether this would apply to the district website, but it should.

And FWIW, D’Agostino’s presentations are the only ones I can stomach these days.

A sad delight

In a past post, I reported on the rude and abrupt approach of current board president Vicki Snell with regard to public speakers.

Last night, Snell exhibited more of this, and some hypocrisy as well.

In the past, Snell has cut off speakers precisely at the three-minute mark, interrupting them and telling them their time is up. Last night a speaker was heaping praise on the board, so much that she ran over three minutes. But did Snell interrupt her and ask her to stop talking? Nope. The speaker was allowed to finish her sentence.

The anguish on Snell’s face was apparent. She realized that her past rudeness had the effect of painting herself into a corner and that from now on, she has to cut off everyone precisely at three minutes – no ands, ifs, or buts.

But this was a friend! Someone she knew, and someone who was actually going on and on about the school board’s club positives.

It’s a double standard.

After speaker Martie O’Meara politely encouraged two of the trustees to reconsider their refusal of an invitation to participate in the upcoming “Toes to the Stove” candidate forum, Snell chimed in as O’Meara was walking away. Snell, who is not up for re-election, should have kept quiet, but apparently she could not help herself. And as she has in the past, Snell insisted on having the last word in the rudest manner possible: With O’Meara in the back of the room, unable to engage in a meaningful dialog after Snell’s remark.

Snell needs some help understanding the scope and responsibility of someone who is running an important meeting.

Maybe there’s an app for that.

After that, it was time to rubber-stamp everything. Standard operating procedure.

Steve Smith