I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Give Us All of the Information-Don’t Hold Back

I understand completely that the Superintendent is the CEO of the district. He is the Chief Executive Officer and is charged with the day to day operational responsibilities associated with running a district of 40,000+ students and more that 6,000 employees. I understand that the Superintendent of Schools has a difficult job that requires a lot of effort, stamina, and leadership. I happen to think that Jim Paul has done a good job in his tenure as Superintendent, and many of the things he has accomplished will continue to help our district continue to move forward in the years and decades ahead, even as Jim Paul leaves the district in the next two months.

This said, I do have an issue with the way a recent disciplinary recommendation came before the board for a vote. Although I recognize that it is the Superintendent’s responsibility to make hiring and firing recommendations to the board, it is ultimately the School Board’s job to vote and act upon these recommendations. The Board should not be put into a position where we are given incomplete or partial information on a punishable infraction. Give us all of the Information-don’t hold back.

When we look at student expulsion recommendations, we are given a thorough analysis of all past infractions, as well as a detailed narrative of the most current offense. This is extremely helpful to me as a board member. When I see that a student has a record of battery on peers, defiance, fighting, excessive unexcused absenteeism, destruction of school property, etc. etc., and a recommendation comes to expel such a student---The decision becomes easier.

With respect to instructional, ESP employee, and administrative staff level recommendations, the board should be given the same in-depth level of information if the recommended punishment is to be exceptionally punitive. I do not intend to get into specifics here, as that would be inappropriate and what is understood does not need to be stated. What I will say is this: I will not vote to go along with a recommendation that seems to be extremely excessive and overly punitive if the infraction presented as the impetus for the punishment seems non-egregious; I will not vote to kill a mosquito with a sledgehammer. I’d also like to have time to consider recommendations—so please do not give us information in the last two minutes of the eleventh hour. Please. I agree with the majority of the recommendations the Superintendent brings to the board for action. (Actually, I have only voted against a superintendent employee recommendation once before. To this day I still feel that I made the right decision on that person’s case.):

But, back to this issue, trust is critical. Trust the board and I with all of the information and I will always vote to do the right thing. When I try to reach the appropriate personnel and nobody takes the call, expect that I will ask questions publicly before I vote to accept the recommendation. Communication is the key. A culture of secrecy does not foster teamwork and trust, but instead creates the opposite. Quid Pro Quo—answer Board Questions, take phone calls when you see a familiar number on your cell display, take time to explain your recommendation, and I as a board member will support your recommendation if it is reasonable. I do not bother staff with phone calls-- if I’m attempting to contact staff you can bet it is for a good reason. Answer the call and answer the questions if you want my support. I, in turn, promise to never call to shoot the breeze, talk about the weather, or to just see what’s happening.

And to the New Superintendent (Whoever it will be) I would (request) recommend that your cell phone have the ability to take a voice message. Hearing the message “This person is not available—call later” is not conducive to effective communication. Just one board member’s humble opinion.

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