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Monrovia School Link ~ Number 9 ~ June 21, 2000
Special edition. No extra charge! Monrovia Superintendent Louise Taylor didn't much care for my last newsletter (you can blame her?), in which I slammed the board for being lap dogs, so she asked if I would come in and talk. I did. So, sigh, it's another serious newsletter, but honest, I'll try to be more fun in the future.
SUMMARY ~ For me, it's hard not to feel friendly toward somebody I meet in person, so I came away feeling rather that way about Dr. Taylor (Look! I'm even using the "Dr." thing.) This, of course, was probably part of what she hoped to accomplish, but I'll try not to let that prevent me from being a pest. Also, I didn't change my mind in the least about the board being a lap dog, though I thought she did a fair job of parrying my comment that the board doesn't give staff much direction. She said she takes board members' questions or comments as instructions to develop reports. My, what service.
TEXTBOOKS ~ The main topic of our discussion was the vote at the last meeting on the adoption of school textbooks. In the newsletter I said the staff report was inadequate and I slammed the board for approving it without discussion or asking for further information. Let me blather on a bit about our discussion, then I'll try to wrap it up.
Dr. Taylor assured me that the board "is very dedicated to understanding the issues" and felt that I didn't fully understand the process, so she explained it. Here goes:
A committee made up of district staff, a few parents (which she works with the PTA to select), two board members and a student (although the board members and student are "not usually able to attend") form a PAC (Policy and Agenda Cabinet) which examines issues and makes recommendations.
I butted in to ask if these reports are public record (I.e., Can I see them?)
No, these are internal minutes. (I.e. You can't see them.)
She then mails out reports to board members each Friday...
Are those public record?
And she gives occasional verbal updates at board meetings.
Do board members reply with questions about the materials she sends? (I asked 'cause it's illegal for board members to hold informal discussions on agenda items.)
If they do, she answered - parrying neatly - their questions are answered in an open meeting.
So were there any questions about the textbooks?
No, but she said a couple members attended a presentation by the textbook company and she had given a report at a meeting. And, of course, there are those mailers.
MY THOUGHTS ~ In a way, this makes it worse. Most of the relevant information the board is using to come to its decisions is not available to the public. It is not in the staff report; it is in these private packets sent to board members. So, you are shut out and I am shut out. As I pressed on this, Taylor pondered and thought that perhaps some of that information should be in the staff report. Yes. Perhaps so.
But what I had criticized was the board's rubberstamping staff recommendations without discussion. How the staff develops its reports - fascinating though that may be - does not answer that objection.
Dr. Taylor suggests that this is because the board has "a lot of trust and confidence" in the staff. She said that while discussion sometimes is necessary, "we are so thorough" (in our reports) that in many instances the board doesn't need discussion.
Which is close to what I said in the first place. The board does not lead; it is led. Board members apparently feel little need to dig into matters with fellow board members. In other words, they have handed over leadership to the staff. (An alternate conclusion, which I don't believe because it is illegal and I don't believe these are dishonest people, is that the board is discussing these matters outside of public session.)
RUMORS DEPT. ~ Perhaps you've heard the rumor that Taylor's husband was employed by the Monrovia School District, or did contract work for the district. Nope! She says. Not so. Never been connected with the district. Not as an employee or a contractor.
ELECTIONS ~ Has Dr. Taylor ever suggested to anybody that they run for the school board? (I had heard a rumor related to this, so as long as I was there...) No, she said, she has never suggested it, and she purposely tries to stay out of politics. However, she has asked people in casual conversation if they had ever considered running for the board. But when someone becomes a candidate, she said, that person is invited in to meet and talk with staff members.
GPAs ~ Recently Santa Fe Middle School Principal Ron Letourneau spoke at the board, and gave a breakdown of the number of students in each grade point average at Santa Fe. I asked Taylor if the district had that data for all the schools. It would have to be compiled, she said. I'm surprised it isn't compiled already, but I think it would be highly informative to have that information. Any board members want to exercise a bit of leadership on this one?
MAYFLOWER VS. BRADOAKS ~ Why, I asked, did Bradoaks School score so poorly on the California Academic Performance Index, while nearby Mayflower scored so highly? She said socioeconomic conditions are the best indicators of success on the index. So are these schools significantly different socioeconomically? Yes, she said, Mayflower has a wealthier population. Hmmm. Okay, but does Bradoaks have the poorest population in the district? No, that would be Wildrose or Monroe. Then why did Bradoaks score at the bottom of the list? (Actually, I looked it up later and if you exclude Plymouth, which submitted its paperwork incorrectly, Bradoaks was second from the bottom, with Wildrose above it and Monroe in last place.) She said that in smaller districts there is bound to be a greater variation in scores. Do you mean it is a statistical anomaly? Not necessarily, she said. I didn't press any further, but I'll agree that the problem is "not necessarily" statistical. I think it is very real.
EMAIL ~ In my email exchange with Dr. Taylor, I discovered, that, hey!, the district *does* have email. Happy day! I'm sure a full list of addresses will be in the next of the district's newsletters, but until then, I think I've got the formula: If you want to address a letter to a staff member, just use the first initial of the person's first name and the full last name, followed by @monrovia.k12.ca.us. No spaces.
Copyright (c) 2000, Brad Haugaard