by John Fannin
With two new members, the Mabton School Board started a new year last night with a retreat in Sunnyside.
Thursday night's session was the first meeting of 2012 for the new-look, five-member board, with Angel Tovar and Natalie Palomarez recently added to the board.
Elaine Porter-Cole is a consultant with the Washington State School District Association, and presided over last night's nearly four-hour meeting at the Green Olive Restaurant.
She praised the Mabton School Board's approach to seeking grant funds for training sessions in the district like the one held last night. "You have proactive leadership for improving student learning," she said.
Porter-Cole covered the ABC's of board responsibilities, including the roles of a school board compared to that of the superintendent.
The board, for example, governs, contracts with personnel and adopts policy. The superintendent, Porter-Cole added, manages, supervises the hiring process and carries out policy.
The retreat was also a refresher course on the role of the board chair in guiding board discussions and board meetings.
Porter-Cole said the role of board chair is not for everyone.
"The idea of rotating so that all board members have to be chair is bogus because the time availability and commitment varies between board members," she said.
With two new members on board in Mabton, Porter-Cole also reminded them to be cautious when approached by parents with concerns. The caution, she said, is due to the fact that concerns should first be addressed by those closest to the situation.
If the problem is in a classroom, for example, Porter-Cole said the parent should first talk to the teacher and, if still unhappy, then move up the chain of command to the principal.
Last night's discussion also included a primer on how public meetings are held.
"The board's job is to do the district's work in public," Porter-Cole said. As for public comment received during meetings, she encouraged the board to be welcoming but to not engage in extended discussion on an issue brought up if it is not on the agenda.
She says that better serves the public by making sure the items the board discusses are the same as those advertised on the agenda.
Speaking of the agenda, last night's discussion sparked ideas for getting each meeting's agenda out to the public through the district website and posting it at the district office.
Last night's session also provided encouragement for the new board to work as a team.
"Individual board members have no authority themselves, but as a group," Porter-Cole said. "That doesn't mean you'll always agree, but your first and foremost role is to represent students."
Porter-Cole also reviewed a survey in which board members expressed concerns. Those included economic challenges, helping more students succeed, having staff and administration work closer together and helping the community understand the need for a levy that is on the ballot next month.
Porter-Cole cautioned, especially for the brand new members, that it will take months or maybe years for them to "get up to speed" on all the work that is ahead of them.
She added, though, that Mabton's new board is off to a good start in the new year.
"You are truly committed to Mabton, that's what this board is all about," Porter-Cole said. "This is a team that's going to have some good discussions."
John Fannin/Daily Sun News
Consultant Elaine Porter-Cole (L) leads a retreat for the Mabton School Board last night. Also pictured are Mabton Superintendent Minerva Morales (middle) and School Board Chair Elsa Sanchez
1 John Fannin 1/13/2012 3:16 PM