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Some Thoughts on the Format of the Public Meetings on the Calendar Proposal

Some members of the community are concerned that the public meetings follow a small group format rather than a public hearing format. A School Board member shares his perspective.

 On Tuesday evening, January 15, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, the first of three public meetings on the proposed “modified balanced calendar” will be held at Northfield High School. I know that there has been some concern in the community about the format of those upcoming meetings, which I would like to take this opportunity to address. Keep in mind that I am speaking for myself, as an individual, not for the School Board as a whole.

Last week, I attended the public meeting on the proposed changes to the seventh grade Eagle Bluff ELC trip, which followed the same format as is being proposed for the calendar meetings. Several members of the district staff were present, as well as Board members and parents. The meeting began with a half-hour presentation of the options being considered. This was followed by approximately twenty minutes of Q&A before we broke into small groups. Each small group included parents and at least one Board member. One member of each group wrote down the group’s feedback on a form that was provided, but the conversation often ranged beyond the questions on the form. The meeting concluded with a member of each small group sharing that group’s feedback with the entire large group.

At the end of the meeting, I asked the parents at my table if they believed this format was fair and allowed them to share their concerns. The parents said yes. I asked them if they preferred this format to a more traditional public hearing. Again, they said yes. 

I understand that others might expect and prefer a different format. As a new Board member who experienced this meeting format for the first time last week, I was pleased with the experience. I found that it gave everyone an opportunity to speak and present their concerns. For me, sitting around the table with concerned parents created more of a sense of collaboration than a traditional hearing format, in which a person standing at a microphone addresses the assembled Board, which to me feels more adversarial. Instead of approaching each other as potential adversaries, we sat down as members of the same community working together to solve a difficult problem.

I do think that it would have been easier to foster a genuine sense of collaboration at this stage in the process if the process had been collaborative from the beginning. Until Friday morning, when the draft calendar was released, members of the community had no idea of when the proposed first day of school would be, or even what dates were under consideration, other than “mid-August.” People were wondering why a modified calendar was even being considered in the first place. I understand the frustration and anger over the process. I still have many unanswered questions of my own about the proposal and about the process.

The calendar proposal itself has its pros and cons, and it seems to me that there are possibilities for modifications and compromises, as well as for acceptance or rejection of the proposal, based on discussions with members of the community. It also seems to me that the proposed meeting format, which finally allows us to come to the table and work collaboratively, is a good way to have those discussions. Having said that, I think that if members of the community feel they aren’t being heard, the Board needs to be responsive to that concern.

For me, the calendar proposal has made for a challenging start to my term on the School Board. I’m still learning procedures and protocols, and establishing a working relationship with the administration and the rest of the Board. I’m still learning my new responsibilities and constraints as a Board member. Through all of this, I am holding onto the conviction that, as a Board member, I have not been placed in an isolated position of power above the rest of the community. I am part of the community, and I want to be part of the conversation the community is having about this issue.  I’m looking forward to continuing that conversation at the upcoming public meetings.

You can share your thoughts about the proposed calendar with me any time via email: rob.hardy@nfld.k12.mn.us Or contact the entire board: board@nfld.k12.mn.us

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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