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Monrovia School Link ~ Number 62 ~ August 6, 2003

Well, we have new principals for Clifton and Bradoaks. I hope they're good. Also, two new candidates for the school board, and the revelation that the school board holds "business meetings," not "public meetings," - a curious distinction. And finally, I learned that the board and - particularly, it seemed - the superintendent, want the board to be exceedingly, scrupulously, determinedly, unwaveringly diligent to carefully avoid "micromanagement."
~ Brad Haugaard (brad@sacklunch.net)

NEW PRINCIPALS ~ We have two new principals. Debbie Rinder will replace retiring Byron Greer as principal of Clifton Middle School. Rinder comes from Glendale Unified School District where she served as assistant principal at the middle and high school levels. Maureen Cook will take over as principal of Bradoaks School. She is from Bear Valley Unified School District, where she was an assistnt principal. Also joining the district are Gale Crotty, the new Director of Special Education. She was involved in special education for the last three years at La Canada. Also, Paul Bullock, who will be the new dean at MHS. He taught at Monrovia High, has been working with the county's AVID program, and is an MHS grad and former ASB president.

NEW CANDIDATES ~ Presenting! Two heretofore-unannounced candidates for the school board. I chatted with them briefly before the meeting and they said it is now official. Here they are:

CLARE CHESLEY ~ Clare is an attorney with two children at Bradoaks, in first and second grades. Her husband Steve works at JPL. Why is she running? "To improve the schools. I think the age of apathy is over." She said the district needs greater parental involvement and parental representation on the board.

BRYON WONG ~ Bryon is a municipal financial advisor with two children at Bradoaks (kindergarten and second grade). He said he is also the executive director of a non-profit, called American Homeownership Foundation, and has a lot of experience with fundraising. His wife, Sunni is a mortgage underwriter at Countrywide. He agreed the board needs more parental involvement. "Coming to the school board when its just the three of us [Chesley, himself, and me], he said, "is just wrong."

STUDY ~ I finally went to another study session. Everything starting from this dot right here -> . is about that. It's been years since I've been to one, but I wanted to hear about this campaign the board is working on. These meetings are theoretically open to the public, but they're held in a back room. When I came tonight there was not an agenda for me. There were only enough for the board members. Clearly the public was not expected. The board met around a table in a small room, clearly not an atmosphere conducive to visitors. But at least I understand why the board likes to meet in the back room: Bottled water, turkey and beef sandwiches, potato chips and chocolate chip cookies.

BUSINESS MEETINGS ~ What hit me hardest in the study session was a comment by Superintendent Louise Taylor. She made a distinction I'd never heard. She said the board "holds 'business meetings' in public, in contrast to the City Council, which has 'public meetings.'" Huh? From the following conversation it was clear she meant that a "business meeting" is really just for voting on things, not for discussing or debating or gathering information. In defence of this approach she said the district gets input through other sources, such as "PAC and DBAC," and Betty Sandford added that the board members get a lot of input from the community, and besides, she said, "We're very representative of the community." Frances Cash said she appreciates "that we have these business meetings. It is important to keep the meeting moving." If you don't, she said, the meeting could end too late.

ANGRY! ~ In other words, the public meeting is just for show. The word "business" means just for plain, simple, show. This really angers me. Yes, democracy is messy and meetings may end late and you can clean it up a lot by keeping the public at a distance and grinding through the meat of the topics in little meetings in back rooms. But I'd rather have the mess. Oh, and aren't you impressed that the district gets its input from PAC and DBAC - whatever they are - and from the board members' acquaintances in the community? Wow. Talk about community involvement. And here they talk about wanting public input.

MICROMANAGE ~ One of the big topics I caught from Taylor and the board members is that the board shouldn't "micromanage." Taylor said, "Your job to make sure the job is getting done, not to do the job," and "the board's role is to provide direction, not to get into the details of running the district." Monina Diaz said micromanagement "needs to be guarded against." Francis Cash said, "We shouldn't try to micromanage."

UNLIKELY SIN ~ This reminds me of something C.S. Lewis once said. It was that each age is most fearful of committing the sin it is least likely to commit. For example, he said, in the brutal Middle Ages, people were afraid of falling into sentimentality. Fat chance. Bringing this up to date, micromanagement seems to be the LAST thing the board should worry about. It doesn't come anywhere close to doing that! I think there should be a TON more board involvement.

DIAZ ~ Again, Monina Diaz is slowly impressing me. She said the board may be "too nice," and members may "lean toward euphamism." She suggested the board "talk about issues as directly as possible." She added that, "If we're honest, stakeholders [whom the board policies say should be involved in decision making] are staff, teachers, and whomever shows up." Not a lot of people, in other words. She also said that board members "should be able to visit schools without advance notice." Yes! Yes! Yes! (Taylor, by the way, said the policy allows unannounced visits "where appropriate and possible.") Also, later in the meeting Monina had a fairly well prepared summary of the campaign the board is working on. More on this shortly.

THE CAMPAIGN ~ The main reason I went to the study session was that I wanted to hear about the board's PR/Fundraising/Other Stuff campaign. I didn't really understand what it was all about and I still don't. I sat through about an hour of discussion and I frankly don't think it's ready for prime time. I hope the board pursues this, but I think it needs a lot more focus. Monina defined the goal as "increasing student achievement," which is great, but I'm not sure exactly what that means. It's a work in progress, though, and one of the first real creative efforts I've seen, so I'm cheering for it.

FIVE AREAS ~ Monina identified five areas for the campaign, which she calls "All Monrovia, All Students, All the Way to A." The five areas are: to increase academic proficiency, give students the option to attend four-year college, character and development, exposure to culture and arts, and giving students the support to pursue higher education. Then, for each topic, she identified ways district staff, the community and parents could be involved.

FOCUS ~ Betty Sandford, who appears to be sort of a co-leader of the effort with Diaz, appears to be using her many contacts in the community to try to rally support for the project, but said she is getting three objections: 1) People think - wrongly, she believes - that there is too much emphasis on fundraising. 2) People think [and in this case, I'm a people] that "our focus is not clear," and 3) Other community organizations are afraid the campaign might compete with their own fundraising efforts.

NEXT BOARD MEETING ~ The next regular Monrovia school board meeting is on August 13 at 7:30 p.m. (I think, the agenda didn't say) at the administration office at 325 E. Huntington Drive.

Copyright (c) 2003, Brad Haugaard. Also on the Web at http://www.sacklunch.net/MonroviaSchoolLink