Subscribe to the email edition of First Bell and we'll deliver you the latest local education news and notes every weekday at noon.
(Updated version, correcting identity of one of the members of the working group included in this first item. - Mark Fagan)
Some news and notes regarding school and other educational items and issues:
A representative from the Cordley School community serving on the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group wants to know the role held by a lead member recommended and appointed by the superintendent of schools.
And the question-and-answer exchange she spurred last week just may indicate the level of attention paid to detail, process and responsibilities during the coming five months of deliberations.
First, a review:
Kelly Jones, a member of the working group, had some direct questions Wednesday regarding the responsibilities of Mike Wildgen, a former Lawrence city manager chosen by Superintendent Rick Doll to serve as the working group’s chairman.
The working group has 26 volunteers: four volunteers from each of the schools identified by a previous school board as candidates for potential consolidation, plus another two from Woodlawn School. The representatives came through nominations from each of the schools’ site councils and were chosen and appointed by Doll to serve as voting members of the group.
Each of the seven elementary schools involved in discussions — Woodlawn, plus consolidation candidates Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — also has a teacher serving as an ex-officio member, tasked with participating in working group discussions and communicating directly with teachers and other employees back at school.
Wednesday evening, during the working group’s first business meeting, Jones and others listened as hired facilitators Kathleen Ames-Oliver and Marilu Goodyear explained that, as facilitators, they would guide the process and remain neutral regarding the group’s charge. The charge: Recommend a plan for consolidating two or three of the six identified schools within the next two to three years.
Jones then turned her attention to Wildgen, sitting at a table with Doll.
Jones: “It’s not clear to me, in terms of the ground rules, what the chair’s role is, if we have facilitators. I would want to be clear on what you are going to do.”
Wildgen: “I wonder that too.”
(The comment drew laughter from people throughout the room, upstairs at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.)
Wildgen: “I intend to play by the same ground rules as everybody else. And If I can help, there may be something I can lend to the discussions.”
(Ames-Oliver then reiterated something that had been brought up earlier in the meeting: Wildgen would be following the proceedings to see that the meeting would end on time, after two hours. Wildgen, she was sure, would be a timekeeper going forward.)
Wildgen: “Well, I will be the timekeeper.”
Jones: “But in terms if someone’s a chair, usually there’s some designated role for that individual. So, what is it that we need a chair for, other than timekeeping? I can do that.”
Wildgen: “That’s a good question. … If you don’t think I’m needed, I’m more than willing to go back home.”
Jones: “No, I’m glad you’re here. I’d like to know how your role was described.”
Wildgen: “Well, I had one meeting with Rick (Doll).”
Wildgen: “I think he wanted someone to help lead the meetings …”
Wildgen: “… to make sure timing was going on, administrative activities, …”
Wildgen: “… planning. We did one administrative meeting to get started.”
Wildgen: “I participated in that.”
Wildgen: “You know, I have some expertise in government …”
Wildgen: “… and organizational abilities, and if I can help …”
Jones: “OK. That sounds like facilitating.”
Wildgen: “Well, I mean they certainly …”
Jones: “Yes, OK.”
Ames-Oliver, who works as learning and development manager for Kansas University’s Department of Human Resources & Equal Opportunity, then noted that Wildgen could help out as group members get into more detailed work during the coming months.
“We may recruit him at any point to work with the small groups.,” Ames-Oliver said.
Ames-Oliver then moved on, asking group members for ideas about ground rules to help guide meetings and decisionmaking and other group-related matters.
Sounds like Wildgen’s role will be clarified during upcoming meetings.
The idea of “voting” is certain to be a key challenge both for members of the working group and the facilitators guiding them.
The process is intended to be governed by consensus — building consensus as meetings continue and coming up with a list of recommendations endorsed through consensus.
One member, Mark Kalusha, already has suggested using “percentage vote consensus” as a way to document levels of support for future group decisions, although he conceded that counting votes might go against the very definition of consensus.
During their next meeting, working group members plan to discuss just how to reach conclusions during the coming months. The specific agenda item: “Define consensus process.”
Last year, during meetings of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force (the volunteer group whose recommendations led to formation of the working group), consensus was an advance-as-you go proposition, with each small decision at times leading to larger ones later on.
One seemingly small decision that proved pivotal from that effort: After weeks of meetings and discussions and site visits, talk turned to which schools should be considered for closed and/or consolidation. Broken Arrow School had come up several times, but when it came time to create the list, one member objected — saying it would not be smart to consider closing the school, because it had been upgraded as part of a relatively recent bond issue.
The task force’s facilitator then asked if anyone would object to Broken Arrow being taken off the list. Nobody spoke up.
From then on, with the list finalized, Broken Arrow was safe. The list of six schools had been reached through consensus, although earlier efforts had indicated that the consensus list might have extended to seven.
Yes, process matters.
One more item from today’s look back at the working group’s first business meeting: There was plenty of talk about getting members involved and seeing that all viewpoints and options are considered.
“We want to make sure everybody has a voice,” Ames-Oliver told group members. “We want to hear from everybody.”