Douglas County School Board tries to rebuild trust at retreat

Goals, state of district spur discussion

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At the first of two retreat sessions, Douglas County School Board directors aired concerns and discussed proposed norms in an effort to address rifts among the board and with the community.

The retreat on Aug. 6 at the Legacy Campus in Parker consisted of directors outlining policy governance goals, the state of the district and what is needed to accomplish the board’s goals. Much of the discussion centered on rebuilding relationships among the board and with three key groups: teachers, parents and students.

Directors Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson focused their comments on the lack of trust within the group and the community’s perception of the board. Meek brought up the lawsuit against the district for firing former Superintendent Corey Wise as one of the main catalysts for losing support. 

“I don’t know how we move forward and build trust when we have issues that we haven’t addressed or discussed as a team,” Meek said. 

Board majority members, Directors Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar, didn’t comment on the ongoing lawsuit.

Myers did respond to say that trust has been lost on all sides and she was working to address it.

“We’re not the only ones being distrustful,” she said. “I know that the people you’re talking to are saying they don’t trust the board. Well, I’m hearing that same thing and getting those same conversations.”

Many of Hanson’s comments were about wanting to find solutions to the loss of trust among the board and with teachers and parents, as well as suggesting better communication is crucial. She both accepted and doled out blame for the damaged relationships.

Hanson said her decisions and experience during the pandemic showed her that many parents felt unheard and she admitted to losing their trust. However, she added that the majority directors’ actions regarding firing Wise and directing new Superintendent Erin Kane to evaluate the equity policy equally upset educators in the district.

“I lost part of the parents … and if we’re being really honest and candid and really looking at ourselves, you have lost part of the teachers and the educators,” she said. “We can’t be successful until we rebuild that.”

In later comments, Meek said she felt many of the district’s concerns stem from the conversation about the equity policy and potential changes. Meek emphasized those conversations should stay top of mind and that she hoped to include more student voices in the equity policy discussions.

“I think getting equity right and figuring out what it means for everyone to feel valued and respected and included — on the board, but also student-wise — (should be a priority),” Meek said. 

Hanson also pointed to the language used by the majority board directors, especially when referencing teachers, as another barrier to building trust. She cited former comments made about some teachers putting the union above education, as well as accusations of teachers being too biased or political.  

“There are more teachers willing to walk for your recall than for their own pay raise. That is not OK,” Hanson said.

Hanson also noted that she believes the board isn’t doing enough to highlight all of the good happening within the district. 

“It’s the middle that we have completely failed to communicate with and work with and show respect to,” she said.

Board President Peterson thanked Hanson for her thoughts and agreed that the district could do better in focusing on positive things and communicating more clearly. For his part, Peterson said the board should focus on balance.

“We do need to make sure that we balance parent voice and honoring our teachers and giving them the ability to do what they do best, which is teach our kids,” he said. “I would like to concentrate on that balance and I know I have work to do in that area, especially the words and messaging to teachers.”

He acknowledged that some of his past comments could have come off as derogatory, even if that’s not what he intended. 

“I’ve been imprecise with my language and I’ve had people come back to me and say ‘Mike, it sounds like you’re not appreciative of teachers,’ and I’m totally appreciative of teachers and what they’ve been through,” he said.

While discussing communication breakdowns, Peterson and Myers said some of their comments were misinterpreted or taken out of context. One example Peterson gave was the community perception that the board drastically changed the equity policy when it asked the superintendent to evaluate it. 

“We didn’t rescind it, we didn’t change it, we didn’t alter it, we still have the same policy in place,” he said. 

Peterson also addressed Hanson’s comments about his actions regarding Wise’s firing, noting there was a mutual loss of trust at the time. 

Hanson said she felt disrespected when Peterson didn’t inform her about his plan to meet with Wise to discuss his job. Peterson responded that he felt disrespected by the special meeting called in response to that meeting. 

“If I could go back and replay that and have done things differently, would I? Yeah, I would, with the 20/20 hindsight from where we are today,” he said. “I still believe that I would have cast the same vote at the end of a different process.”

Myers, David Ray, Winegar and Williams did not speak to the current state of the board. 

Winegar did say she felt the district’s monitoring reports will be crucial to keeping track of accomplishments and areas of concern, while Williams said she wanted to know what each director needed to move forward. 

At press time, the board was to continue its retreat on Aug. 9, where the agenda includes setting norms.

Douglas County School District, Douglas County school board, board retreat, trust, accountability, Mike peterson, erin kane, susan meek, elizabeth hanson, becky myers,

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