Report from the Shoreline retreat

10/22/2015

It’s been a hard year for the trustees of Shoreline Unified School District. Budget woes, painful staffing cuts, clashes with the superintendent, transitions and substitutes in key administrative positions, and community pressure for board members to relinquish their health benefits have challenged these seven elected officials. Given the fractious last year, the board’s annual retreat on Monday at the Tomales Regional History Center, facilitated by Linda Sheppard of the Marin County Office of Education  and Interim Superintendent Nancy Neu, seemed especially important. The trustees discussed many concerns voiced by the public over the last 12 months: district goals, board self-evaluation, equity in meeting locations and transparency around meeting agendas. 

Though a retreat is usually an opportunity to withdraw and reflect, the Brown Act requires all meetings to be open to the public. I attended, as did Avito Miranda, who in December will be sworn in as the first Latino board member in many years. Mr. Miranda’s participation gave a preview of how he will interact with this group, and I was impressed by his questions and comments—praised by other participants—that at times highlighted the perspective of the Latino parents. 

Half of the three-hour meeting was devoted to new goals drawn from the district’s Local Accountability Plan, the state-mandated planning document that requires school districts to engage the community to establish goals. These new goals—which included student achievement, improved facilities and better communication—must include measurable outcomes. Clear expectations for the district and a new superintendent, who will start next school year, will hopefully help the district hire and keep a strong lead administrator. 

In the second half of the meeting Superintendent Neu explained how a board self-evaluation can improve the board and the community’s perception of it. While current board policies state that the board should conduct a self-evaluation annually, no board member remembered ever doing so. The trustees agreed to use the services of the California School Board Association to conduct the evaluation in the spring. Superintendent Neu recommended holding the evaluation in open session to boost public confidence. 

The district’s challenging geography (50 miles in length) has historically made it difficult for the community to fully participate in board meetings. The majority of meetings were held in the north end of the district last year, to the chagrin of constituents in Inverness and Point Reyes. The board considered holding all meetings at Tomales High and simulcasting them, so anyone could attend remotely. But many concerns—including the importance of promoting a unified district, as well as the costs of the technology and issues around Spanish translation—contributed to a decision to rotate meetings between West Marin School and Tomales High starting in 2016, with one meeting in Bodega Bay annually. 

The last topic of the evening addressed the policy on how the public can add items to a board agenda. Constituents should contact the superintendent who will help the board president determine if board or staff should handle the issue. Board issues will be added to the agenda within a “reasonable” amount of time, described by board president Jill Manning-Sartori as within one to two months, depending on the amount of necessary background research. The school will notify the constituent when the item is added. 

Trustee Manning-Sartori at one point in the meeting said she believes all problems she’s encountered at the district stem to a breakdown in communication. I believe each of the items discussed at the retreat will contribute to better communication and collaboration, which will ultimately lead to a better experience for all our students. 

 

Donna Faure, the Parent Teacher Student Association’s treasurer, lives in Inverness.