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Vernon School Board Members Debate the Chain of Command

One Democratic member wanted an answer regarding a communication policy.

A question over how a Board of Education member gets access to the faculty and staff of the local schools erupted into a tense debate over the chain of command at Monday's school board meeting.

Democratic Board Member Michele Arn requested that the discussion be added to the agenda because she said she recently had a hard time getting in touch with two principals.

She said she had to go through Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway's office, but considered that unnecessary.

"I wanted to communicate with the principals and I want to know why I couldn't just contact them," Arn asked.

Republican Chairman Dean Houle said the school board's bylaws indicate that  any communication with school staff members must go through the superintendent.

"We can take it to Dr. Conway and she can bring it down to the staff," Houle said.

When asked by Arn why a member of the local elected governing body cannot contact a principal directly, Houle replied, "We do not supervise anyone other than Dr. Conway."

Section 2b of Bylaw 9030 states that, "All official communications, policies and directives of staff interest and concern will be communicated to staff members through the superintendent."

Section 2d states that individual board members interested in visiting schools or classrooms will make arrangements through the administration of the various schools."

Arn said her communication was not official and she said it could even be considered personal. She said it was "not something I felt comfortable sharing with the superintendent," and added she reluctantly did so because she wanted to get her message through.

She continued, "So if I just want to visit a classroom, the bylaws say I have to contact the (central) administration?" Arn asked.

Houle said, "If you wish to visit a building, you can go through Dr. Conway."

Arn countered, "I don't report to anybody," then continued, "What is the chain of command? So everything I want to know must come from the superintendent?"

Houle then said to Arn, "You are tying your hands by not being willing to work with our superintendent. We should not go out and be on our own mission."

Republican board member Anne Fischer asked Arn directly, "Is there any reason why you were not willing to share (the communication) with Dr. Conway?"

Arn said, "I don't know how to say it other than I thought it was none of her business … I am used to establishing my own relationships."

Republican board member Laura Bush said she usually contacts Conway about a visit or communication as a courtesy, specifally using the term, "out of respect."

Democrat Terri Goldich said she recently contacted the Maple Street School administration about a donation from a colleague.

"I was told to come on down," she said. She then added, "Our policy is not clear on this."

Houle eventually cut off the discussion as it dragged on.

Bylaw 9030 is attached.

George September 28, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Tanjua...what exactly does "it appears" mean?? Since you were there, either she made the formal request and was denied, or she felt she didn't need to comply with the rules and did not make the formal request. Which is it. We all get pretty sick of this "it appears" garbage. No time for innuendo...just the facts, please!
Nancy Krupienski September 28, 2012 at 09:48 PM
The fact is we need open communication in Vernon. It's time to get the reform going and give teachers the resources to do their jobs. George/Bert...people are going to have different ideas that you don't agree with, but you need to give them a chance before going on the Patch attack. If we are truly keeping politics out of this then it's time to stop attacking Ms. Arn and making her out to be some rogue board member. Will Nicholson has taken his own stance recently about issues. I like it! These members are getting off their duff and taking action to better their schools instead of the failing status quo we have been stuck in for years!
Lance September 28, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Bert,you seem to know so much and yet I have never heard of you. It is so easy to hide behind words and share your views under a assumed name. Let's talk facts. I voted for Michele Arn. I voted for her and she is my voice before the school committee. She was told she can't speak at citizen's forum. She has asked numerous times to add things to the agenda for discussion and it was not. Hello! do you see a problem with this. That means the Repubican majority took my voice away. It is time that our elected officials represented all of the people. It is time our voices are heard. If Michele can't get information through the normal channels kudos to her for having the guts to do what she needs to do so my voice is heard.
tdm September 29, 2012 at 03:08 PM
@George I only heard Ms. Arn's perspective because the superintendent sat tight lipped and was not asked by the school board chair to weigh in on the situations Arn described. I don't have all the facts because they weren't all given. I can only say what I heard from those who spoke and what I observed with facial expressions and body language. Hence why I used "it appears." The public only received one side of the story, which is unfortunate. This district/town suffers from trust and communication issues from the top down - republican & democrat. This is unfortunate as well. Board members "work" for the taxpayer and the superintendent "takes direction" from the board. Doesn't seem to be happening this way in Vernon. As a regular attendee of board meetings there is definitely a division by personalities, by information needs, by understanding, by lots of factors. Unfortunately it leaks out at each meeting because trust and communication are lacking from one side of the u-sharped table to the other.
tdm September 29, 2012 at 03:17 PM
@Cathy i think that was part of why Arn questioned where the board of education fit in the district chain of command because the policies can be viewed in different perspective. The problem is although board members need clearance to speak with staff by the superintendent what happens if the superintendent always denies that request? Also the policy about visiting schools says the board member must contact the administrator - is that the superintendent or the principal? Clarity needs to be made within the district policies and procedures. Because Arn questioned it does not mean she does not know them, maybe she needed clarification. Near the end of the discussion Goldich pointed out that maybe some clarification needs to be made.

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