At the meeting of the Human Relations Task Force on May 22, there was more confusion about the process.

Someone raised the issue of the lack of students attending the meetings. I think there was only one student on 5/22. Could be that a few more were there, but if so, not many more and certainly not as many as there should be. There was a brief discussion as to why (commitments, for one) but it’s safe to state that everyone agreed that we needed more students on the task force.

That led to the comment/understanding that of course, students are welcome and that anyone could jump in and join at any time.

I’d heard enough, raised my hand, and politely stated that I had a problem with that. I do not believe it is right or fair for someone to suddenly show up at the end of the process and have the same voting weight as the folks who have put in the time or effort over several months.

The decision to let anyone in at any time is indicative of a couple of things. First, it reveals a lack of experience with a structure that is common in both the public and private sectors. In their attempt to include all voices all the time, the task force facilitation has created an open-ended membership and an open-ended timeline for completion. Both are hindrances to progress.

Second, it reveals the lack of leadership and oversight at the district level.

I saw only two trustees, Karen Yelsey and Michelle Barto, on 5/22. Of course, it could be that everyone else had commitments – we all have lives to live – but these meetings have been scheduled for a long time and if this process is as important as the district claims, they should all be there, save for any really important life events. Of all the trustees, Barto has the least wiggle room to attend as she is the only parent of school-aged kids on the board. Family demands would be more than enough of a reason to skip the meeting, but she was there.

I also want to note Yelsey’s ongoing involvement in the process, which is greatly appreciated.

The superintendent was there, though I don’t know why. He was not introduced, he sat in the back for the first half of the meeting and when we broke up into subcommittees, he did not join one of them – Barto did, as did a few other district personnel – but just wandered around the room, without making any contributions.

It was a pivotal moment in his tenure as the super. We are faced with arguably, the most important process and opportunity in the history of the district – greater than charter schools, a budget shortage, or anything else. And the meeting on 5/22 was the most important to date because most of the comments from the members danced around the lack of leadership and structure.

The table was set for the super to step up, say something, and start assuming the leadership role and creating the structure that is missing. But he didn’t. He said nothing and did nothing.

Here is what a responsible, true leader superintendent would have said:

“Good evening everyone. First, I want to thank you for being here. Your attendance tonight and your commitment to this cause is commendable and inspiring. 

“It is important for everyone to understand that we will not always agree on everything. In the final recommendations to the board, there will be elements you embrace and some with which you have reservations. That’s the nature of the process we have established and that will apply to everyone: No one will get all of their recommendations included.

“I urge you to look past the individual components of the final recommendations and keep your eyes on the prize, which is a district with firm tolerance policies in place that will help reduce hate incidents and inspire more students to be more inclusive in their thinking and in their lives.

“Finally, I want you to remember that the final recommendations are not set in stone. They are merely a starting point for positive change and as we go along and discover what is working and what is not, we will make the necessary adjustments.

“On the screen behind me is my contact information. If at any time you want to speak to me about anything regarding this task force, I would like to hear from you.

“Again, thank you for being here tonight.”

That’s what a leader would say. Something like that, anyway.

Oh, and perhaps the super could have brought something to the party by providing a solution to the lack of student attendance. Here’s mine: If they can’t come to the meetings, we should be bringing the meetings to them. There are a number of ways to do that by both virtual and in-person means.

The lack of leadership by the superintendent on this monumental process is defying the old axiom: It is no longer true that you get what you pay for.

Steve Smith

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