Anyone who serves on a board knows it is both important and difficult. Serving on the Wichita Board of Education is particularly so because it is about the future of 50,000 students.
I’m about to finish over 16 years of volunteer service. Because of my long-term perspective of working with 17 board members and four superintendents, I think it’s important to publicly respond to Joy Eakins’ recent opinion piece about the current board.
Some historical context is helpful. From the beginning, I have strived to maintain a focus on students. In the early 1990s, board meetings were described as “Monday Night Fights” and went into the wee hours of the morning. The adults serving on the board often took their disagreements to the table and turned meetings into a sparring contest. Board members knew things had to change, beginning the evolution to congenial relationships and behavior. I’m proud of the growth in both leadership style and substance.
This may be why I am so personally disappointed in how Eakins brought her concerns to the public. As she and I are both leaving the board, I wish she’d brought these concerns to us directly. Together we should have a substantial discussion about how the board works together to promote student success. We may have swung too far the other way from the “Monday Night Fights” and that’s an important discussion to have. But attacking the board does not encourage that important discussion, or make it happen.
Never miss a local story.
Unity should come when board members are informed and following a common mission. As board members we must come to meetings prepared. We spend countless hours prior to Monday meetings with background information. Like other elected officials, this often requires asking questions of staff before the public meeting. We schedule agenda reviews with two or three board members primarily to make certain we understand complex issues.
Those meetings never take the place of substantive, public discussion. I understand that the lack of that type of public discussion has contributed to this perception and for that I personally apologize. We must do a better job of explaining the complexity of issues and have more of those discussions in public.
In regard to voting, colleagues provide pertinent information to change opinion. I routinely engage the community, staff and parents in conversation prior to meetings. When on the losing end of a vote, I remember that the seven of us make decisions together. You cannot remain angry or you lose focus on the goal of student success.
What may have hurt most, however, were allegations regarding speakers. We can schedule up to 20 per meeting. I’ve put an emphasis on always treating parents with respect, particularly on Monday nights. However, I routinely challenge those that represent anti-education organizations when their facts are untrue. People regularly contact me away from board meetings. I have talked with thousands of parents and community members in my 16-plus years. Their input has been essential to understanding the needs of the entire district.
I will continue to give priority to our 50,000 students and 8,000 staff members. Collaborative leadership is difficult and yet necessary. Courageous action is most effective when built on trust.
Lynn Rogers represents District 6 on the Wichita school board.