San Dieguito board works toward more effective governance

San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) board members held an effective governance workshop on Feb. 21, a step toward improving their working relationship and creating a governance handbook with meeting guidelines for the board.

SDUHSD President Beth Hergesheimer said she has been trying to get this workshop scheduled since 2016 and had already created a draft of meeting guidelines.

“I think we could’ve been doing a lot of great work if we had realized how common a lot of our goals are,” Hergesheimer said.

All board members but John Salazar were in attendance for the session that lasted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Salazar said that he had requested an evening or weekend session as the middle of the week in the middle of the day was not reasonable for those with jobs, board members and public included.

Luan Burman Rivera, a consultant from the California School Boards Association, facilitated the day’s workshop. Topics the board felt necessary to discuss at the workshop included confidentiality, the new trustee areas, how to deal with community concerns, how to handle public comment, phone use during meetings, asking questions in advance of meetings, and communication in general within the team and within the community.

It was also an opportunity for the board to discuss how they will handle superintendent evaluations.

During public comment, some parents also had suggestions for the board. Parent Wendy Gumb said she believes most discussions are held in closed session so when decisions are made in open session, the public doesn’t understand why their representatives made those decisions. Her issues with the board this year included a board member sticking her tongue out at a community member, the board not being able to clearly articulate about budget issues, and teachers being the top priority and not the students.

Parent Beth Westburg cited a similar concern about teachers and not students being the board’s number one priority: “I feel like I have no one representing me and my son,” she said.

Despite the public comments about students not being a priority, the number one meeting guideline that the board set that day was that they will keep their focus on the best interest of the students.

As part of the workshop, the board and superintendent all shared about why they came to serve on the school board and what their goals were.

.“The better you know the people you serve with, the better you understand their positions and actions,” Berman Rivera said. “I think that’s helpful and it creates a stronger connection and helps you work together in a more collaborative way.”

Hergesheimer said that she was raised in California during a time when public schools were well-funded. Seeing the “roller coaster” the state education system has gone through, she got involved to help push the state back to where it could be in terms of education funding.

SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill echoed the same idea in speaking about his positive experiences in public schools in Detroit: “I’ve seen how we used to invest in education and where it needs to go.”

SDUHSD Board Clerk Joyce Dalessandro spoke about how her mother came from Russia, where an education was not provided to her. When she arrived in New York she was amazed by the presence of a free education and she passed that amazement and love of education on to her children.

SDUHSD Vice President Mo Muir spoke about being one of nine kids and how her single mother always drove her children to volunteer and be involved. SDUHSD Trustee Amy Herman came from a family of educators and was raised with a respect for public education. She had once wanted to be a teacher but as her career took her in a different direction, she instead got involved as a volunteer.

Berman Rivera said despite their different backgrounds, there was a common thread in their purposes. More commonality was found when the board members discussed their goals—many involved improved communication with each other and the public.

“I’d like the team to realize their power is as a collective body so they must work together civilly and constructively,” Dill said.

Burman Rivera said that was a key point—that none of the board members has any individual power once they walk away from the board table.

“You have to work as a team or you can’t govern this district effectively,” Burman Rivera said.

As part of the workshop, the board members refined their meeting guidelines, which included being more communicative with the public, allowing each board member a chance to speak, building on the ideas of others and looking for common ground, ensuring that there are no hidden agendas and identifying board goals, and staying focused and not getting sidetracked.

For Muir, it was important that board members disclose relationships they have with people or companies they are discussing.

The board will have a vote on the governance handbook that is developed from the workshop, which will then be signed by each board member as an agreement of how they will work together.

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