The disconnect that sometimes is apparent during East Allen County Schools board meetings was on display again during Tuesday's proceedings at the district's administration building in New Haven.
Board members attempted to balance the conducting of new business with a discussion about the responsibilities of decision-making and representing constituents in a district that one member described as “fractured.”
The meeting featured a presentation that highlighted the repercussions of one of its decisions in early 2011: the integration of students from now-closed Monroeville and Harlan elementaries into the Heritage attendance area. A team of educators from Heritage Junior-Senior High School, led by Principal Bob Rohrbacher, explained to the board its goals for the 2012-2013 school year, which includes efforts to integrate new teachers with existing faculty, give new students more of an identity and prepare for the transition to a new principal in 2013-2014, among other action items.
Assistant Principal Chad Houser and RTI Specialist CC Fullove detailed efforts to identify students whose performances could be strengthened through intervention efforts, as identified through the aggressive interpretation of test scores and classroom performance. Jennifer Hunter, a guidance counselor at the school, discussed how the building now offers more Advanced Placement classes.
Tom Utnage, a teacher at the school, detailed how staff members are focused on also teaching students how to behave properly in school, with the creation of a reward system and positive phone calls to parents, among other efforts, as a byproduct of the initiative.
While it was stressed that the data had to be observed through the prism of Heritage Elementary only having had the increase in students for one school year, the board was shown slides that indicated that some improvement in test scores had been shown, compared with the last few years prior to the closing of Monroeville and Harlan elementaries.
This matters because while the district administration developed the plan to close the two schools and board members approved it, that process in East Allen County Schools still seems to function with some degree of wariness, as exemplified when the board moved on to its “new business” portion of the meeting agenda.
The board will approve its budget for 2013 at its next meeting in two weeks, and as a result, the new business agenda featured all of the resolutions that will need to be passed -- items to fund like capital projects, bus replacement and pension bond neutrality plans. But two items which appeared to be benign -- the resolution to approve all budgets at the next meeting, and the approval of a contract with a Title I-mandated, part-time parent outreach specialist at Meadowbrook and Highland Terrace elementaries, drew questioning that indicated that some board members remain wary of how the board agenda is phrased and how the district manages its resources -- one board member, Rick Allgeier, questioned the $20 per hour salary for the outreach specialist already agreed upon in the contract.
The EACS board has been criticized for micromanagement, and that line of questioning could be construed as an example -- while the board has oversight responsibility of the district, the district administration still has to interview, hire and manage required personnel.
During the board discussion portion of the meeting, Stephen L. Terry discussed ongoing efforts to solicit feedback from the community in the aftermath of the failed referendum from earlier this year, with Terry asking what the board's next steps would be if the community voiced few viable suggestions or alternatives -- initial public meetings meant to assess what options the community might consider have drawn few, if any, attendees.
Allgeier asked why the board continues to “want to push” the community and suggested that a lack of response indicates that the community is weary of efforts to increase funding for the district and that potential new board members that would be elected in November would be better served in making any case for change. Terry Jo Lightfoot disagreed, however, saying that the current board has a responsibility to keep the lines of communication open between the board, district and the community, because repairs to facilities have to be addressed.
“We're fractured, as a district,” Terry said. “We can't say that the only reason that people aren't coming is out of frustration, but we can't say that it is not the reason.”