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.

tdm September 25, 2012 at 01:57 PM
The Vernon Board of Education goals is are 1: to build and improve relationships and partnerships with family and community, 2 Increase the achievement of every student through high quality curriculum, instruction and assessment, 3. Promote safe environments that are socially, emotionally, and physically conducive to learning. If board members are not allowed in go to schools to observe, speak to staff, and family how do these goals get accomplished? Not by sitting around a table twice a month, but being out there involved. Why does it appear our district is being micromanaged? What is the fear of board members (i.e tax payers) going into schools to see for themselves what is taking place? Is there something to hide? There should always be a check and balance. All information should not come from one source. The body language last night around the table spoke volumes to me as a parent and a tax payer. There is a lot broken in this district and our board of education is on that list. There is listening going on but actually hearing and understanding other people's perspectives and needs as a board member are being missed. I surely hope that the board as a whole can see a positive in being able to visit the schools, talk with staff and parents so that as a community Vernon can move toward educational success instead of being given the black mark as failing. Otherwise there is not point in setting goals.
Lyn Nielsen September 25, 2012 at 02:23 PM
I wish more BOE members came to visit the schools. I can count on one hand the number of times a BOE member visited NES while I was teaching there. I didn't realize they had to get permission to visit, how sad. Maybe we would have seen them more often if this was not the case. I have always felt they should be in the schools, observing what is going on in the classroom, talking to students, and talking to teachers. I have never understood how BOE members can make informed decisions or engage in a dialogue about a school they have not visited. Do the BOE members have to get permission to attend the PTO meetings as well? If a BOE member is invited to a school by a teacher, does he/she have to get permission for that? What is the purpose of asking permission? Is it a trust issue? If that is the case then we are really in trouble here. This policy seems very unreasonable considering the BOE are our elected officials. I agree with Ms. Arn on this one.
Bert September 25, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Ms. Arn does not wish to understand protocol or her role as a member of a Board of Directors. This is not new. If she continues, at some point, she will place the board in legal jeopardy. She has come close in the past. Her statement "I don't report to anybody." tells you how she sees herself. Other towns, particularly Bolton, have had board members who conducted themseleves in this manner and chaos ensued. Mr. Houle is correct. The BOE supervises Dr. Conway. Teachers and administrators should not be put in the middle between one board member and their supervisor. The system has been carefully structured to allow open communication through proper channels and designed to prevent "witch hunts" and unnecessary disruptions of education. There are appropriate ways for a BOE member to investigate an issue without going off on their own. An individual elected official has no power on their own. They are only empowered by the group. The fact that she does not wish to share her concerns with the Superintendent or her colleagues is troubling indeed.
Love Rockville September 25, 2012 at 02:58 PM
There is protocol to follow I get it. I think the superintendent and board needs to worry more about how our schools are performing as to who is going and asking questions of a principal of what it seems a personal matter. I agree with Lyn Nielson, the BOE should be in the schools and not looking from the outside in to solve problems in our schools. I also believe there are a few members on the BOE that have blinders on and can not see what has happened with the quaility of the eductation the students of Vernon are getting. At one time Vernon Schools were highly thought of now they are not even getting a second look.
Nancy Krupienski September 25, 2012 at 05:38 PM
I have seen Laura Bush at the Center Road School fair. Anne Fischer is at PTO meetings. Why does Ms. Arn require permission to talk with someone from the school system when others are free to move about and chat with parents and administrators as they like?
Bert September 25, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Some are taking this to the lunatic fringe. Of course BOE members can attend school events, speak to school employees and even visit a classroom..That is very different from settiing up appointments with teachers or principals and specifically wanting to do it behind the Superintendent's and other BOE member's backs. The BOE is the policy making board. They make decisions based on input from administrators, teachers, parents, and interested citizens, not through the rumor mill. If there is question as to the implementation of policy or a question about an employee, it should be brought to the attention of the Chairman of the Board who will take it up with the Superintendent and the entire board. When one BOE member goes off on their own, they are not being heros. They are jeoparidizing the integrity of the entire board and they are showing great distain and disrespect for their fellow Board Members.There is no reason to by-pass the BOE rules I cannot imagine a School Superintendent disallowing a board member access to a principal or teacher. She is just asking for the courtesy of knowing what the matter is. If Ms. Arn has some concern or has been contacted by some parents with questions, it's her duty to contact the proper people. It's important that the BOE maintain an unbiased position and receive information through appropriate channels. Behavior like this from one member undermines people's confidence in the entire BOE and that is neither fair, nor responsible. .
George September 25, 2012 at 08:34 PM
The Board of Education is made up of 9 members who, like it or not, are elected via a political process. As a body, their job is to set policy which the Superintendant and administrators are charged to implement. I can't imagine the chaos that would come from each individual Board member, each with their own agenda, political or otherwise, descending on classrooms unannounced! It wouldn't be long before teachers and principals grew frustrated with these actions. Had Mrs. Arn been denied access by the Superintendant, we would have a different discussion. But deciding that the rules don't apply to her, or simply failing to provide the courtesy that proper notification asks for, is a complaint that rings hollow. In fact, it rings of a political agenda attempting to sow the seeds of disruption on a body of elected officials who have more important issues to deal with. We finally have a Council and Board who do their job quietly and professionally without the rancor of the recent past. Most citizens would prefer it that way.
Vernon Taxpayer September 25, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Section 2d states that individual board members interested in visiting schools or classrooms will make arrangements through the administration of the various schools." Who is the administration OF the various schools? Would this not be the schools Principal's? I suppose it's how you interpet the Bylaws. Please lets move on we have alot of work ahead of us.
Vernon Resident September 26, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Per the article... .... 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.".... ...Arn said her communication was not official and she said it could even be considered personal.... What am I missing? Michele Arn said her communication was not official...
Bert September 26, 2012 at 04:33 PM
When are people going to understand that if you are an elected official, you are an ELLECTED OFFICIAL until you are not! You can't keep hopping across that line as it suits you. There are close to 400 employees working for the BOE and the Superintendent has a responsibility to buffer them from political pressure and to know if there are issues out there that have people concerned. What could be so "private" that Ms. Arn couldn't share it with the Superintendent, even in general terms? Did Ms. Arn think that the personnel involved would not report it to the Superintendent immediately anyway? This is just stubborness.
meowkats4 September 26, 2012 at 05:35 PM
I agree out of respect and rules contact Dr. Conway regarding any issues involving teachers and principals! Dr. Conway needs to know if any issues or problems arise she should be aware at all times! General issues should be also cleared through her an appointments made to see the Principal. (Department heads need to be always aware of issues and protect their employees (or have their backs covered), far too much happens with He said/she said issues!
Cathy September 27, 2012 at 01:42 AM
I was not in attendance at the Board of Ed meeting, but from what I can gather from the Patch article NO ONE said that Board of Ed members cannot visit schools or speak with school staff, only that there are policies and procedures in place that board members must follow if they wish to do so. That we have board members who are unaware of board policies and procedures is troubling; that Ms. Arn in particular has served on the board of ed in the past and yet is unaware of policies and procedures is, to me, more troubling still. Perhaps she could spend some time studying the bylaws so that Board of Ed meetings can focus on finding ways to raise student achievement instead of on petty personal gripes.
Cathy September 27, 2012 at 01:55 AM
I agree that BOE members should spend more time in the schools. Perhaps if they did, they would not have been surprised by a recent survey that said that 55% of RHS students do not feel safe in school, and that only 6% of RHS teachers believe that RHS is seen by the people of Vernon as having a positive image. That being said, policies and procedures are there for a reason. Bert has already articulately explained those reasons in his posts, so I won't repeat them here. As for PTO meetings, each school as an assigned BOE representative who is supposed to attend that school's PTO meetings and report back to the BOE. Sadly, it has been my experience that those representatives do not always attend PTO meetings. That is something that should be addressed by the superintendent.
tdm September 27, 2012 at 01:22 PM
I was at the board meeting and from what was said it appears Ms. Arn has been denied being able to speak with principals if the content of the conversation is not approved by the Superintendent while other board members have freely spoken to principals without clearing it with the superintendent first. Double standard - miscommunication, not sure. Even though the policy about visiting schools says board members need to contact administrator it sounded like the board chair was saying even those requests by board members need to be cleared by the superintendent. Board members "work" for the taxpayer. This taxpayer would like board members to visit schools. Sometimes seeing what takes place is more effective than hearing another person's perspective. We do not know the full reason Ms. Arn brought the topic up. Possibly there is more to the story.
Vernon Resident September 27, 2012 at 01:29 PM
well said Tanjua, ...Board members "work" for the taxpayer. This taxpayer would like board members to visit schools. ...
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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