We have seen it all too often, and maybe you have experienced it in your district: The mystery of the vanishing Citizens Advisory Committee (or whatever you call your formal feedback group of constituents).
The first meeting bristles with excitement, as citizens pile into the meeting room and carry on a structured conversation about the committee purpose, discuss future meeting dates and aspirations, and maybe even tackle a topic that’s a “low-hanging fruit.”
The next meeting draws 25 percent fewer attendees, but it still has a pretty good turnout and discussion. Then the ball really starts to roll downhill, in terms of attendance.
How to get around this? Conduct Virtual Citizens Advisory Committee meetings. Here’s how they work:
- You have the traditional first meeting, but with a twist – that’s the last time.
- You announce, instead, the group will be asked to make a one-year commitment to answering brief online surveys (either quarterly, or six times a year). The surveys will take 10 minutes, and 100 percent participation is required. Pass around a sample survey to show you really do mean 10 minutes.
- An email with key details will precede the surveys.
- Ask the group members to sign up before they leave. Also, tell them they will be asked to provide their name on each survey, in case follow-up is necessary.
Patron Insight has successfully assisted several schools districts with Citizens Advisory Committees. If we can help you get one underway, contact Ken DeSieghardt at 816-255-0668 or [email protected].
Guest column by Dr. Andy Underwood, superintendent, Belton School District – Mo.As new school leaders begin July 1, there are many new aspects of their lives that will change, the least being a new mailing address. I think back to lessons I have learned from other colleagues in my first years and realize how many of those ideas have stayed with me even today.
Be a leader. Be a visionary. Be a champion for children!
- Have an open-door policy and mean it. Share office hours if needed.
- Be a good listener, and remember, listening doesn’t always mean taking action.
- Take time to investigate concerns and give expected times for a follow-up conversation.
- Be a learner and observer, especially in the first year.
- Research strategic plans. Talk to staff. Review notes from your interview to follow up on the Board of Education’s suggestions.
- Learn the Board of Education’s preferred mode of communication and recognize it may not be the same for every Board member.
- Communicate regularly with Board members; perhaps even pick a specific day they will be certain to hear from you. There will be other communications, but they will always hear from you on Wednesday, for example.
- Remind yourself: Anything sent in a text or email can end up on the front page of a newspaper or on social media.
- History repeats itself. Look back at the last three to four years of Board agendas. Utilize these as a guide to help you understand how the district has operated, and they may give you ideas to expedite Board meetings, such as adding a consent agenda.
- And finally: Do what is best for the kids and be able to explain why you are doing it. The response should not be “because the Board of Education made me do it.”
The Rolla (Mo.) Public Schools are in the midst of a rather atypical research endeavor right now.They conducted research before fashioning a ballot issue, which ended up winning at the polls. They constructed the projects and started the programs specified in the bond issue, and they now are all up and running. But they still wondered, could anything have been better?
Specifically, did the community feel well-informed about the progress of the projects? If not, how could it have been improved? And now having cleared this hurdle, how do you think we’re doing? Are we living up to the goals we set forth in our strategic plan back in 2014 (specifically, the district’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, or CSIP)?
So, they engaged Patron Insight to ask those questions via telephone and online research. The results will be available later this month.
“In all the excitement over projects to get done and programs up and running, following a bond issue, it’s easy to assume residents felt connected to the process,” said Dr. Aaron Zalis, superintendent. “We want to find out for certain, so we can continue to improve our performance and our efforts to make that connection.”
For more information about research of this type, contact Ken DeSieghardt, Patron Insight CEO, at (816) 225-0668 or [email protected].