A Community of Learners

The blog is back.

On Friday, I received a call from the Superintendent, who told me that he had spoken to the school district’s attorney, and that the attorney would be preparing a written opinion that blogging is permitted under the Open Meeting Law. To prevent this blog from becoming an illegal meeting, other School Board members are not permitted to comment.

This has been a big week. On Monday, I was officially sworn in as a member of the School Board at the Board’s organizational meeting. There was a large crowd at the meeting, not to see me sworn in, but to address the Board about the proposed 2013-2014 school calendar, which featured an August 13th start date that would have been the earliest in Minnesota. Over two dozen members of the community spoke against the calendar proposal, including a group of poised and articulate 4-H members aged eight to eighteen who spoke about the value of 4-H and the impact an early start date would have on their participation in the State Fair.

After the Superintendent made his formal presentation of the calendar proposal to the Board, Board vice-chair Kari Nelson suggested setting aside the proposal for the 2013-2014 school year and begin a community conversation about what kind of school calendar best supports learning for all students. A motion was made to insert an action item into the agenda, and  the Board voted unanimously to adopt Kari’s motion.

As the new member of the Board, nervous and inexperienced, I learned from Kari’s calm and diplomatic approach to the situation, and I was pleased to be able to join in a unanimous vote to make the process of considering a school calendar more inclusive. 

My first School Board meeting lasted four and a half hours. You can watch the video of the meeting on Northfield Patch, and you can read more about the Board’s calendar decision and its Eagle Bluff ELC decision in the Northfield News. If you have any comments or questions about the meeting, please feel free to email me at rob.hardy@nfld.k12.mn.us

On Wednesday, I spent the day at the Hilton in downtown Minneapolis at a Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) training session for new School Board members. The training was part of MSBA’s annual leadership conference. At the training I had a refresher course in the Open Meeting Law, and learned more about school finance, budgeting, and collective bargaining.

Next up for the Board, at our January 28th meeting, is a formal presentation of the proposal to put iPads into the hands of students throughout the district. I spoke to Matt Hillmann about the proposal for the first time back in December, and heard him give a similar presentation at a public meeting on January 5.  At the January 28th meeting, Matt will present more information about the cost of the program and details about how it will be implemented and assessed.

On Thursday of this week, I received a packet of letters from eleven sixth grade students who had been assigned to write a letter to a School Board member about the iPad proposal. I read the letters on Thursday evening and wrote back to the class. This is what I told them:

The eleven letters that I received were almost evenly split for and against the iPad proposal. Six students favored the proposal, and five students were opposed. Most of the students in favor of the proposal liked that iPads are lightweight, resulting in lighter backpacks; that they promote the acquisition of useful technology skills; and that they have environmental benefits, because they will cut down on the use of paper. Most students who opposed the proposal cited the cost of purchasing iPads, the added responsibility for students of caring for the iPads, and the concern that iPads will make students less sociable by causing them to focus on a screen rather than on other people.

These are all valid and interesting arguments. This is why it’s so difficult to be a School Board member: because there are so many good and persuasive arguments on both sides of any issue. In the end, it’s the responsibility of the School Board to make decisions that are in the best educational interests of all the students in the Northfield Public Schools. It helps me to make those difficult decisions when I hear from thoughtful students like you, and from your parents, guardians, and teachers.

I’m making arrangements with their teacher to visit their class sometime next week to talk more about the issues they raised in their letters. This is the part of being a School Board member that I like the best. I like being part of a community of learners.

One thought on “A Community of Learners

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