Superintendent offers new board suggestions to ‘get us off on right foot’
October 11, 2013 · Ann Gruber-Miller
Mount Vernon School Board members heard some of superintendent Gary O'Malley's philosophy about what it takes to be an effective school board member at their first meeting as a new board on Sept. 23.
It was the first meeting of the board that was created by the Sept. 10 election of three new board members (Tara Brokovich, Sherry Grunder and Lori Merlak) after three long-time board members chose not to run (John Cochrane, Paul Morf and Tom Wieseler). The four returning board members are beginning their third year on the board (Shannon Amundson, Darrin Gage, Virginia Roudabush and Mark Weldon).
O'Malley, who's in his first year as superintendent, summed up his ideas in seven "suggestions to get us off on the right foot":
• Be yourself - Just be the way you are. Whatever type of person you are is fine; all school leaders will contribute what they have to offer.
• Get comfortable - Your comfort level will influence how well the board works together.
• Listen and learn - Watch and observe, and gradually gain confidence to contribute.
• Trust, but verify - Think of things from all angles and different perspectives.
• Find ways to contribute - Returning board members are starting their third year on the board. O'Malley said now the board has possibilities of new growth with a new superintendent and new board members. He encouraged members to think of themselves as a team; they will all contribute, but in different ways.
• Kindness matters - Be thoughtful, civil and polite. That attitude will help school leaders work together better.
• Lead in service for others - O'Malley said board members' service learning will be knowing that what they do for the district ultimately helps the children that are in it.
O'Malley also asked the board to read his August 2009 article, "Increasing civility among board members," published in the American School Board Journal, which explains his ideas and approach more fully. In it he says:
"Board meetings are public displays of leadership designed to promote decision-making among adults. Board members are armed with words... and their wit, patience, poise and personality influence board proceedings. The truth is that some adults react comfortably and confidently to changing situations. Others are impatient, socially awkward and less likely to move from individual preferences toward common agreement.
"An effective superintendent anticipates the outcomes of a spirited conversation necessary to resolve important issues publicly. An effective superintendent keeps the organization moving forward despite the unpredictable nature of adults and the unpredictable nature of change. An effective superintendent employs practical strategies for increasing the civility among board members by building a sense of community based on mutual respect and mutual benefit."
The board also discussed communication "dos" and "don'ts" for members. Open meetings laws do not allow board members to conduct official business any place except in a public meeting, which must be posted a day in advance and require a majority to be present (four for this board). Board members are allowed to gather for social gatherings as long as they are not deliberating.
Returning board member Shannon Amundson said that this board makes it a point not to gather in a majority of four members anywhere except in a public meeting, to make sure it does not look like they are conducting business anywhere else.
An email can also be construed as a public meeting because it is a public document. So board members should make sure their emails are not deliberations.
O'Malley also reminded board members that they themselves do not have to know the answer to every question they are asked. They can refer questions to the professionals in the district about areas the professionals have expertise on.
In other action last week the board:
• Approved two new staff for the district. Jenny Ciha, the long-time Kids Club director who retired at the end of the 2012-13 school year, is now a lunch worker at the elementary school. She will receive a salary of $13.09 per hour to do lunchroom supervision and clean-up. Eighth grade English teacher Michelle Boyden was approved to also be the new ninth grade girls' basketball coach, at a salary of $2,068. She resigned from being the seventh grade girls' basketball coach as of Sept. 20. The district is advertising to fill that position.
• Approved an out of state trip request for the high school Drama as Literature class, taught by English teacher Sarah Richardson, to travel by school bus to Chicago on Oct. 2 to see the show "Evita." The district covered fuel costs. Students and the English Department paid for tickets.