Now what? That was the question Newton school board member Allen Jantz posed two-thirds of the way through Monday's special meeting, and it was aptly on point with the theme of the night.
Convening to go over the district's comprehensive plan and the Board of Education's goals, the role both played in the recent bond issue was discussed by the school board — as well as how current board members will shape those items and the path moving forward.
Vince Haines (Gravity Works) and Kevin Greischar (DLR Group) were on hand to walk the board through how that comprehensive planning process started, given the amount of turnover that has occurred — with four new board members — since that work began about two years ago.
As Haines was quick to note, the board is not starting over when it comes to the comprehensive plan. Rather, the intent was to give the group more solid footing on which it could base its collective future decisions reviewing all the work that had been carried out getting input from administration, teachers, community, etc. on what the district needs.
This past fall, that manifested in the form of a vote on a school bond issue and while facilities were a part of that comprehensive planning process, it was noted they were not the be all, end all. Communications and district policies were also a large part of the discussion, something Superintendent Deb Hamm noted administration has continued to work on.
Community engagement was an item board members kept circling back to, as the work on the comprehensive plan and the survey following the vote on the school bond illustrate two very different pictures about an active, informed patron base.
"Quite an effort was done to get people to come into these (community) sessions and provide input, and it's not unusual that the turnouts for those things are not fantastic," said board member Steve Richards.
"This is a big sort of stumbling block," said board member Toby Tyner.
Engaging the community is something Tyner sees as a multi-dimensional layer of the process (with the consideration of language barriers, message platforms, meeting schedules, etc.), while Jantz sees those same issues in the support itself, as there is a lot to consider.
Board members had a lot to consider on Monday as they try to figure out what action comes next in setting goals that align with the comprehensive plan and where they want that to take them.
Starting the bond process again has been a potential action discussed in the past few months and while the comprehensive plan was used as a means to get various parties on the same page while initially going through that, there were questions about how to get to a consensus on the best plan moving forward — especially with questions raised in the exit survey about perception and how likely people may be to hold onto their opinions regarding the bond.
"It wasn't an easy decision for the community vision team and it wasn't an easy decision for the board, and it wasn't comfortable every step of the way," said board member Jennifer Budde," but that doesn't leave us in any different position because I think everyone still holds their same, basic opinions. We just kind of have to hash them out again."
Unsettled is how Tyner described the process leading up to the bond vote last fall, so acting in unison was a focal point as the board discussed the next steps in planning and goal-setting.
While addressing a bond vote a second time isn't a process Gravity Works and DLR Group have had to go through frequently, Greischar noted that has been more common in the past couple of years. Direction was asked for by the architects and Hamm in terms of a plan of action, with the board in turn asking for some more focused options to consider.
"It's just a little too open-ended for us at this point," said board member Matt Treaster.
"What you need is for us to come back with concepts of how you proceed, not concepts; paths to go down," Greischar said. "We can certainly create that."
Options are not being considered solely on another bond, but on the entirety of the comprehensive plan, which ranged from safety issues to student engagement to district involvement from the outside community. That gives the school board plenty to chew on — with things like communication being a necessity in many members' opinions — and while Hamm noted administration is addressing several items, the board agreed they need to take a lot of ownership in that as well.
"I feel like we have a problem of letting other people guide us instead of being the leaders we were elected to be, coming up with the plans ourselves," said board member Angela Becker. "I feel like we're constantly kicking things down the road."
"If this is what we're going to allow to guide us and this is what we're going to communicate," Richards said of the board goals, "we want to communicate clearly and effectively."
After charging DLR and Gravity Works to come up with some new plan options, the board also agreed to set aside more time for discussion of its collective goals at a work session scheduled for April 23.
In other business, the Newton school board:
Approved the Head Start continuation grant application and budget for the 2018-2019 school year.
Adopted a resolution to non-renew the employment contract of Michael Parker, Newton High School theater/drama teacher, for the 2018-2019 school year.