Facilitating Team suggests improvements to Mehlville public-engagement sessions

Panel criticizes poor quality of sound at Sept. 10 session


The Facilitating Team for the Mehlville School District’s public-engagement program last week suggested desired improvements in its public sessions, specifically the sessions’ “horrible” sound quality and focusing more on academic achievement in administrative presentations.

The next community-engagement session for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Success-ful Schools — will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road.

At that meeting, Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost will take over responsibilities for the sound quality and amplification of speakers. Facilitating Team members criticized the poor sound quality of the district’s Sept. 10 community-engagement session, which was marred by pops, screeches and drones coming from the sound system used that evening.

Knost attributed much of those sound problems to not the system itself, but rather the engineering of it.

Specifically, Knost said Director Of Information Technology Services Steven Lee’s use of a lapel microphone — which Knost said he instructed Lee not to use before the Sept. 10 meeting — caused much of the sound problems.

“Predominantly, the lapel was the problem with Steven doing his presentation,” Knost said. “He’d talk and then you’d hear that pop. He’d stop his presentation and he didn’t realize what it was. He started adjusting the board, which didn’t need any adjusting. He was out of his sweet spot with that lapel mic and he shouldn’t have used the lapel mic.”

For future sessions, Knost proposed handling the responsibilities for the best use of the sound system. He suggested using a standup microphone for participants at the next community-engagement session to speak with a sound check already being performed at that microphone.

Knost also recommended that any members from the Facilitating Team expected to speak that evening should arrive early in order to run a sound check.

Facilitating Team members also discussed limiting crowd noise by more actively gathering audience members to their assigned tables at the start of the meeting and not forcing speakers to talk over the audience.

“Oftentimes, it’s a natural for us to want to talk over other people talking,” said UNICOM•ARC representative Dan Burns, whose firm was hired to organize the public-engagement process. “That’s tough. You’ve got to get folks quiet to talk.”

“This is where we have a tough time,” said Facilitating Team co-chair Dan Fowler. “You have got to get people seated and they’ve got to get quiet.”

“I almost think sometimes there needs to be somebody regulating all that …,” Knost said.

“I think the other thing to keep in mind is we’re not going to get it perfect,” Burns said. “We’re not in a perfect environment. Folks want to talk.”

Participants at the district’s Sept. 10 community-engagement session also believed that the sound quality of the meeting, which was reserved for the topic of improving the district’s technology, was poor.

But Director of School/Community Relations Patrick Wallace said at last week’s Facilitating Team meeting that while results of a survey completed by 130 participants at that meeting showed dissatisfaction with the sound quality, they were happy with many other aspects.

“We put the survey on all the tables,” he said. “We didn’t know what the audio was going to be like when we put the survey out. We kind of knew what the result was going to be.”

“I had a category beyond what yours was,” Fowler said. “It was horrible.”

“I think they gave those comments as well,” Wallace said. “But we basically gave the folks that were there … and I had 130 responses, which is pretty good. We had them rate the sound quality of the visual presentation, the comfort level of the room itself, the parking experience — which I expected to get more negatives on than we did — and the materials they received on the table. And the only one, obviously, that did poorly was sound quality. On the visual presentation, out of 130, we had 110 that said it was great or good on the visual presentation. The comfort level had 101 that said it was great or good. The parking experience was 92 said it was great or good, which kind of surprised me … And then 112 said the materials on the table were great. So we had good feedback on the things we kind of wanted to get an idea of.”

Board of Education President Tom Diehl believes the district’s presentation on technology was perhaps more resounding to educators than the public and that it lacked a correlation to academic excellence.

“I did hear some criticism about the presentation being catered to other IT people and educators as opposed to the general public as far as the way the message came across,” Diehl said. “… I think we need to stay focused on academic achievement and how technology could help us. I think we’ve got to get back to that message with all our presentations going forward. I was concerned that we missed a good opportunity here to win converts to the cause.”

As far as the discussion Sept. 10, Facilitating Team member Keith Benack believes that residents provided “some of the best” feedback the district has heard to date.

“I thought it was some of the best comments on the floor I’ve heard since we’ve started,” Benack said. “Very on point. And I thought people really paid attention and really thought in this particular instance and really put together a consensus from their team. And I was very impressed with that.

“Previously, there would be certain agendas at work. But I didn’t hear that. I just heard people looking at the data, considering what was being said and responding to that. So I think they were very into that meeting.”

Benack and Fowler also noticed that a re-curring theme — residents’ interest in the safety and security of students — again popped up during the Sept. 10 session and technology fair prior to the meeting.

“A lot of people freaked out about security in the buildings,” Benack said. “Technology could be anything from a new doorknob to whatever. So a lot of people were really into that. And you saw it at the technology fair. There was a huge crowd around the guy that does the Web-based camera system, the security system that works right into the police. I went by there. I thought maybe he was giving something away. There were like 20 people there.”

“If there’s one thing that’s honest about COMPASS so far, it’s that this community puts a very high priority on safety and security,” Fowler said. “That’s become very clear at every meeting. It’s the one thing that keeps coming back. It’s safety and security.”