Nobody likes to be micro-managed or second-guessed, and that includes school boards.
When that happens, people and school boards can become defensive – sometimes overly defensive. And sometimes, unfortunately, it can cause decision-making boards to dig in their heels and pull the covered wagons in a circle around themselves.
We are happy to report the Sartell-St. Stephen School Board is keeping an open mind about its vacancy-filling policy. At one point, it seemed certain the board was willing and ready to appoint a man to fill the vacancy that occurred when board member Julie Zupfer Anderson resigned. The board, apparently, intended to do that without any open-application process. And filling a vacancy with an interim member, we should remind ourselves, is well within the legal bounds of any school board. Furthermore, the man the board considered appointing is a highly qualified school professional, who is an expert in many school-related issues.
That said, we should also remind ourselves the board’s original intention at its early April meeting (to appoint a member without opening the process) came on the heels of the decision to end the week-long spring break. That decision, too, was well within the rights of the board.
However, in both cases, the board’s actions caused a sour note among many Sartell residents – parents and students. Those actions gave many people the perception the board is functioning without gathering enough public input and without listening to the opinions of those it serves.
Decision-making is often a difficult – and at times unpopular – process. We are certain the school board meant well in both of its actions, which turned out to cause controversy. We are certain those board members, including the one who resigned, want nothing but the best for every student in a great school district.
Still, the board probably should have faced the criticism it received head-on with open ears and an outreach of understanding. The board should have held a widely publicized public meeting (at least in the case of the spring-break decision), and that meeting should have taken place in a gymnasium that could accommodate a large gathering, rather than in the tight confines of the school-board meeting room.
Many opponents of the school-board actions were not necessarily unwilling to accept the board’s decisions; they merely wanted those actions explained; they wanted to understand the rationales behind those actions. That is not too much to ask.
The Sartell-St. Stephen School District is one of the finest in the state. Teachers, administrators, staff, school boards, parents and students have ensured that ongoing excellence. The surest way to smudge that excellence is for a school board to erect a communication wall between it and the public. And that is the impression, rightly or wrongly, that was conveyed, in the minds of many parents and students.
The surest way to remedy that unfortunate perception is to begin immediately a renewed commitment to transparency and a genuine two-way communication process between board members and the community.