Communication, roles discussed at first school board retreat for Moody

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 13, 2013

SALISBURY — Saturday morning’s Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education retreat came after new Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody had been on the job nine days.
And, Moody said in her remarks to the board, she’s been busy.
Six members of the board were present for at least part of the two-hour discussion. Kay Wright Norman attended for the first hour, and Jean Kennedy joined for the second hour.
Board member Charles Hughes was absent.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence, Moody outlined some of what she’s seen since taking over the superintendent’s position, and some new initiatives she hopes to bring to Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
Openness and communication were themes that recurred throughout the session, as Moody said she was grateful for the opportunity to meet one-on-one with school board members in recent days, but won’t make a habit of individual meetings.
Instead, Moody said she wants to streamline communication among board members so that they all have the same information.
In her previous work with the Rock Hill, S.C., schools, Moody said she distributed a weekly “hotline” packet to all school board members containing reminders of upcoming events and copies of communications.
If one board member asks a question, Moody said, she wants to be sure all members get the same information.
Already, Moody said she has visited 17 schools and will have visited every school in the county “before the end of the month.”
“And I’m spending a solid hour with the principal” at each school, she said.
Meeting with school officials, community leaders and local politicians has given her a lot of information — “like drinking water out of a fire hose, but it’s been really enjoyable,” Moody said.
Her discussions have included meeting with “several groups of parents over issues at Erwin (Middle School),” Moody said.
She did not elaborate on details of those meetings.
Eleven-year-old Daniel Safrit, an Erwin sixth-grader, committed suicide the night of Sept. 26 and his parents blamed it on repeated incidents of bullying.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve had any surprises,” Moody said in response to a question from board Chairman Richard Miller.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do … (and) we’re going to work together,” Moody said.
Moody and board members discussed what leadership style schools should present.
Moody provided a chart of different leadership styles, and said it was up to the system to avoid a “factory” mentality, where “everybody gets the same thing, at the same time, and the same way,”
The goal is for the superintendent and school board to “adopt a role where parents are partners, in effect asking, ‘How do you become a partner with us?’”
She said her role as superintendent is to “build capacity” by communicating as well as by dealing with issues, and the school board’s role is to do likewise.
As for students, “We can mandate that they sit in the seat,” but they must be engaged to participate, Moody said.
“That’s going to be our biggest challenge that I have found so far. The level of expectation about our students is too low. We have to raise that bar,” Moody said.
Miller agreed. “We have to get the parents to understand, and then the community has to be there in support of the whole thing.”
As the board prepares to hire two principals, Moody said she hopes to use existing evaluation documents for principals as a guide to hiring.
She also requested that board members not be involved in hiring committees, citing concerns over openness.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate, I don’t think that’s the work of the board,” Mood said. She added that there is no mention in system documents of having a board member involved in hiring committees.
Board member Josh Wagner said that he had sat on the hiring board for East Rowan Principal Julie Erdie.
“But we only sat on the first round of interviews,” board member L.A. Overcash said.
Moody said that still would give some board members information that other members may not have.
Also, Moody said, since the superintendent reports to the board, having board members recommend candidates for her to hire could set up an unfair situation.
Norman disagreed, saying that other staff are typically involved in the process and that board members don’t know the entire field of applicants.
“The board doesn’t know whether 30 people applied or two,” Norman said. “The board member only knows that, here are seven or eight people who are being interviewed, or however many,” Moody said that “everyone (on the board) should have equal opportunity.”
She said she prefers to have candid discussions with the entire board, in closed session, concerning potential candidates.
“Individually, I feel that you should not be involved in that process,” Moody said.
Other topics of discussion included possible board visits to schools, meetings with parents, and appropriate protocol for board-wide e-mails.
She said that, rather than “reply all” to e-mails on issues, board members should reserve comments for open meetings so that their discussions are on the record.
To help set a tone for future discussions, Moody and board members watched a video by author Jamie Vollmer, “The Ever-Increasing Burden on Our Nation’s Public Schools.”
Vollmer’s video briefly revisits the evolution of responsibilities given to public schools in the U.S., especially the things that are today taken for granted – hearing tests, bilingual education and school breakfasts and lunches among them.
Vollmer outlines a century’s worth of mandates added to public schools in the U.S. “without adding a single minute to the school calendar in six decades,” Vollmer says in the video.
Moody asked for reactions from the board about what they’d just seen.
Overcash said the video highlights “what the public and the government have added to the school systems without the funding to take care of it.”
Wagner spoke of the “contract” between schools and society, with parents expecting schools to not only teach children, but raise them.
Moody agreed, saying that the continuing demands on teachers’ time can make actual teaching difficult.
Wagner suggested that these facts and issues could become talking points for the community.
And Moody suggested that Vollmer’s book could be recommended reading for parents and those who want to be involved in education in the community.
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education next meets Monday evening, in a called meeting members said would likely consist of a discussion in closed session with the system’s attorneys.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.