Mehlville Facilitating Team strives to improve COMPASS sessions

Team member says teachers ‘uncomfortable’ with public-engagement process

By MIKE ANTHONY

Members of the Mehlville School District’s Facilitating Team are continuing their efforts to improve community-engagement sessions designed to gather residents’ input.

Last week, Facilitating Team members again discussed ways to more evenly disperse district employees among residents attending the community-engagement sessions for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

The third of 11 community-engagement sessions will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, June 4, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road. The Facilitating Team is charged with formulating residents’ concerns and suggestions for the future of the district into recommendations that will be presented to the school board in May 2008.

The team includes residents, teachers, students, school-board members and educational planning advisers.

During a Facilitating Team meeting May 21, members reviewed the May 14 community-engagement session at which incoming Superintendent Terry Noble spoke. After team member Sandy Jacobs said she heard concerns about “too many teachers” participating in study groups May 14, teacher Cathy Mayrose, who also serves on the team, responded that teachers are starting to feel “uncomfortable” with the process.

Mayrose said, “… I was going to bring this up and I don’t know if this is the right time, but teachers are feeling a little uncomfortable with this process.

“I think I’m a little confused, too. It seems like the last time we had a Facilitating (Team) meeting or maybe it was the time before when you talked about when after the first general session that people felt I think you said after the teachers were all at one table and their comments were made, everything fell flat,” she said, referring to team member Keith Benack, who acknowledged he had made such a remark at the April 30 Facilitating Team member.

Mayrose continued, “Right. And I shared that with some teachers, who just like: Did you think? And they were like: We felt like we shouldn’t say anything. That it wasn’t our place …”

Referring to an e-mail sent to the district by Chris Brown, an unsuccessful school-board candidate in the April election, May-rose said, “And then Chris Brown’s e-mail that teachers were kind of taking over and dominating each table. I was like: Well, are they sitting all at one table and dominating or are they spreading out and dominating?

“And I just had dinner with some teachers tonight and I said that I was coming here and one of them said, and this is no offense to the Oakville or the Concord Call, but they said: ‘I was very put off by the comments in the Call …”’

In fact, Mayrose said, the employee making that comment was a librarian who said district librarians had been encouraged to attend by Yvonne Morris, director of learning resources/instructional technology. But after reading the Call article the librarian told Mayrose she felt “unwelcome.”

As a result, teachers are “ambiguous” as to whether they should attend.

Facilitating Team Co-Chair Dan Fowler said, “Well, in that same article I think we made it very clear that teachers are welcome, that we wanted them there, but when it comes time to being the scribe and the spokesperson, we want a community face — not to say that teachers don’t live in the community because many of them do. But I think it’s important that the process has a community face on it …”

Mayrose, however, responded that teachers she spoke with objected to the characterization they were dominating discussions.

“They were like: ‘Absolutely not. We sat at tables and did not say anything and we were not the scribes,”’ she said. “So many teachers felt: ‘Wait a minute. We were trying to take a real low key …”’

Fowler interjected, “And I think you did in the second meeting.”

Mayrose said: “OK. Well, I’m just — teachers are feeling a little uncomfortable is the word I’m getting.”

Fowler said, “… Please encourage them to come. We want them there.”

Dan Burns of UNICOM•ARC, a firm assisting with the community-engagement process, said, “That’s not uncommon. It’s an awkward situation … It’s very important that staff be there to share.”

Mayrose said, “… If we weren’t there, they’d be saying: ‘Wow, staff doesn’t care at all about this process.’ But we are there in numbers and they’re: ‘Oh, they’re trying to dominate …”’

Burns said, “I think you just have to share with your colleagues to have some sensitivity to the process and the process is really designed to be driven by the community and kind of look at yourself as you’re there as a resource, a very important resource there at the table. It’s just important that staff, regardless of who you are, do not dominate or come across as defensive … I think it’s very important that staff is there. You just have to be sensitive to the situation and the overall goal of the process.”

Fowler agreed that the teachers are a valuable resource at the sessions.

“… That’s extremely important. And re-member in the same e-mail, Dan Fowler was afraid to take a microphone to somebody …,” Fowler said, referring to Brown’s e-mail as several team members laughed.

In his e-mail, Brown also stated, “… I was very disappointed in the fact that the chance to publicly state comments was never given to my table. I think Dan Fowler was afraid to publicly approach someone with facts from the DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education).”

Fowler later told the Call, “We have gone out of our way to make sure that all voices in our community are heard and that includes critics. While we will show no special consideration to a particular individual, critics and Chris Brown can count on their voices being heard. In particular, Mr. Brown was given a microphone at our last CES (community-engagement session) meeting to voice feedback from his working group.”

At the May 21 meeting, Fowler said, “If I were a parent sitting at a table with other parents, I would want a teacher, an educator there, to kind of help me through to understand some of this. I think that would be important from my point of view.”

Jacobs said, “At the first meeting, there was the question how many staff members were actually residents of the district? And I remember somewhere hearing that we were going to have them stand and identify themselves … at the next meeting so that people would actually see how many staff members are residents of the district. Do you think that would help? …”

Team member Paul Goldak said, “Rather than having staff stand up if they’re residents, ask all residents of the district to stand up …”

Team members liked Goldak’s suggestion with Fowler saying, “… Great idea.”