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Desert Sands school board admits struggle to work together

July 17th, 2013 | by Brett Kelman | Comments

The Desert Sands Unified school board believes it works well – just doesn’t work well together.

As a whole, the school board members are appropriately focused on student achievement and district progress, but individual members struggle to work as a team or to show each other respect.

This is the most interesting findings from the Desert Sand school board’s first-ever self evaluation, which was discussed during a board meeting on Tuesday night. The evaluation was compiled from the confidential online surveys completed by each board members, who each other on 58 separate items.

The self evaluation also criticized the board for not having enough self evaluations.

CAPTION: Board members listen to results of their self evaluation during a meeting on Tuesday night.

Board.pic

Generally, the responses were positive, with a majority of board members giving themselves high marks in most areas, said Desert Sands Superintendent Gary Rutherford, who presented the results. But the evaluation also exposed some weak spots, where board members agreed they could improve.

For example, a majority of board members said the board infrequently “works well together,” “treats each other with respect” and “follows agreements on how they will act towards each other,” according to the evaluation results.

Rutherford said the results showed board was also “honest enough” to recognize where it could improve.

CAPTION: Rutherford

Rutherford

“I think we are seeing a pattern … about the interpersonal conversations, and what are our norms and agreements about the tones of those conversations,” Rutherford said. “Are we being mindful about our body language? Our voice tone? Our eye contact? Of our reflective listening of each other? Those are the kinds of things that tend have to do with people feeling respected or that they are being treated well.”

The lowest marks came in the category of accountability, where four out of five board members said the board does not evaluate its own performance enough.

“You just did,” Rutherford said, as he presented the self-evaluation results to the board

The idea for this self evaluation sprung from a shouting match during a school board meeting in March. The board member at the center of the shouting match praised the evaluation on Tuesday night.

In March, Matt Monica, a longtime member of the board, shouted at the meeting audience when a few audience members stood to leave during a discussion on proposed layoffs. Later in the meeting, he yelled again at members of the public who interrupted him. In return, several people in the crowd demanded Monica take off a hat he wore during the meeting. With dozens of teachers, parents and at least one student in attendance, Monica verbally lashed out.

“You had your chance. You had your chance. It’s my turn. It’s my turn. It’s my turn. It’s my turn,” Monica shouted over raised voices on March 5. “Wait until you hear me. Wait until you hear me. Wait until you hear me. Then fine, I’ll take off the hat.”

The incident prompted the newest board member, Wendy Jonathan, to suggest the board adopt a code of conduct and plan a self evaluation. Monica said called the proposal an action “against” him, but the other board members voted in support of the proposal. Monica initially refused to participate, but said the following day that – although he opposed the idea – he would follow the lead of the board majority.

Monica reversed his position even further on Tuesday night. Monica apologized to the rest of the board for opposing the proposal and said the self evaluation was an invaluable tool that should be repeated.

“I can’t believe how important it was for me to do this along with my colleagues, and I really have done a reversal. An apology may not be enough,” Monica said. “This instrument … is literally excellent and a necessary tool for all boards on a regular basis.”

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