School board updates communication method

The school board updated its method of communication this August, informing the public of its meetings’ conversations through new online briefs.

During the briefs, Bryan Davis, superintendent, and Katelin Watson, communications director, discuss the recent meeting’s main topics. They record this informational session via video camera and then make it open to the public on the Shorewood District website.

“They’re short, three to five minute videos [where Davis and Watson explain] the highlights of what happened at the meetings,” said Paru Shah, school board president. “We have the agenda, but [they] talk a little bit about more of the details of what happened in the conversation.”

Davis brought this installation to the attention of the board members at the beginning of his term. He wanted a quick way to update the public on recent decisions and alterations made during their bimonthly meetings.

“Meetings are usually an hour and a half to two and half hours long and are audio recorded,” Davis said. “We wanted a chance for people to not have to listen to the entire recording, but to capture some highlights in five minutes or less stay up to date.”

The communication is meant to be quick and easy. However, some members of the public detest this short summary of events.

“I applaud communication but … I think that what the community – or certain members of the community, people that I’m associated with – have been asking for is video streaming, live streaming, of school board meetings. We want more than the briefs, we want more than just the sound bites and the clips: we’re interested in the depth and the substance,” said Margaret Schmidt, parent.

According the Schmidt, there is a trust gap between the community and the board, and the briefs are not helping fix this problem. Between the removal of the two impromptu discussion sessions during school board meetings and the lack of live streaming, Schmidt is not happy.

“[There is] a huge, huge problem right now, I would say, with people in the community and the school board: big, big problems with trust.”

Currently the school board feels the briefs are going well, but they welcome similar reactions to Schmidt’s in order to adjust the system.

“We’ve got some positive feedback on just trying to be transparent with our communications and what the school board is doing. Certainly we’re always open to helpful hints, so we certainly welcome feedback on that,” said Davis. “My communications director and I are just looking to improve every time, but we think it’s been a good start.”

Nonetheless, the community’s complaints have reached the board, as the members have started to discuss live streaming in the future.

“One of the things that came up at the last board meeting was moving to video taping … I think that was really the idea: to give people an opportunity to hear what they missed essentially,” Shah said.

Public members approve of live streaming. “A really good way to build trust, to start to bridge the breakdown, would be to boldly be proactive in putting live-streamed or recorded board meetings, unedited, on the website,” Schmidt said. “Other people who have run for the board like Mr. Cade and Mr. Davis–Greg Davis not the superintendent Davis–and myself obviously … have been talking about this, so its not like it’s a secret. It’s not like it’s only a few people. People want access to what’s going on in the government.”

In the past, meeting explanations were shared to the community in the form of documents, uploaded semi-weekly after the conclusion of board meetings. These new briefs are available in a similar fashion, as they are shared to the district website after the Tuesday meetings.

by Elena Cruz

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