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Consultant to CS Board: “You have to start working together”

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education heard some straight talk last month from the MASB consultant who went over the results of the board’s self-assessment.

Scott Morrell, from the Michigan Association of School Boards, told the Cedar Springs Board of Education that when he looks at them, he sees possibilities. But when he showed his staff the results of the board’s self-assessment, their one word to him was, “Yuck.” He added that it may be one of the worst spreads they’d seen.

Six out of seven of the board members took part in the self-assessment questionnaire. They had to rate themselves from 0-5 (0 meaning don’t know and 5 meaning excellent) in areas of leadership, academic performance/accountablility, board responsibilities, board effectiveness, data-driven decision-making, board-superintendent relations, and community engagement/advocacy. 

They scored lowest in board-superintendent relations, with only an average score of 1.97, which is between unsatisfactory (1) and needs improvement (2). Their second lowest score was in leadership at 2.02. In fact, they scored between (2) needs improvement and (3) satisfactory, in every category.

Morrell told the board he suspected they had trust issues, and that they had lost the respect, responsiveness and professionalism they should have when dealing with each other. “You need to listen to each other,” he told them.

For some time now, various community members and staff have been coming to the board to express their concerns about not being heard, and with the things they see happening.  Morrell had a remedy for that.

“When the board starts functioning better, these community members are going to stop coming. They have better things to do. I’m sorry, but you guys are crazy. You’ve got better things to be doing than this monsoon that’s been going on. But as long as your board is not functioning, you are going to see this…What we have to do is build trust and respect versus setting our hair on fire. When you set your hair on fire, it’s a good show. So here comes the community, “Ok, what are they going to do this time?”

Morrell urged them to make a decision that evening, October 23, that they wanted to improve. “If you don’t make a decision saying we want to improve, you are sending a clear message to the whole organization tomorrow morning that the board doesn’t care. And can you tell me those people aren’t going to talk tomorrow about what the board did tonight?”

Morrell recommended they do a retreat and take the DISC personality profile to learn more about themselves and each other. But there didn’t seem to be a lot of buy in from the board for that. He did also go around and ask each board member one thing they could do to improve. 

The Post also asked board members that question, and received answers from four of the seven members—President Matt Shoffner, Vice President Brook Nichols, and trustees Ted Sabinas and Michelle Bayink.

“My response for improving myself was to seek clarity before board meetings, whether that’s asking the President or Superintendent for clarification on an item or if it’s reaching out to other board members,” said Nichols. “Other board members must have done this as well for Monday’s meeting. Earlier on Monday, Laura sent an e-mail answering multiple questions that board members had on various agenda items so we could all have that information ahead of time, which was very helpful,” she explained.

Michelle Bayink was quite animated during the workshop, asking for ways they could improve and what Morrell’s recommendation might be. “I want to speak up, I want to work together as a board. I’m trying to get solutions,” she said.

Matt Shoffner sent out a general press release stating that the board took a major step toward demonstrating its commitment to governing effectively on behalf of the students and communities it serves by formally adopting the Board of Education Governance Standards at its meeting on November 13, 2017 (click here to read story).

“After working with Mr. Scott Morrell, from the Michigan Association of School Boards during a Cedar Springs Board of Education Self-Evaluation Workshop on October 23rd, 2017, I believe BOE members listened to Mr. Morrell. There is a commitment to be better and do better. To that end the board passed the MASB Board of Education Governance Standards Resolution with a vote of 5 to 1. “   

“We are excited to be among the many school districts in Michigan to adopt the BOE Governance Standards,” said Board President Matt Shoffner. “We believe these Standards are an important tool that will help us with the vital task of governing our district. They will help us raise the bar, live up to expectations as elected officials and better understand our roles as board members.”

Ted Sabinas was the lone member who voted against adopting the Governance Standards. “I don’t agree with everything MASB is trying to communicate,” he explained. “They are pretty generic standards. We struggle with the ones we already have and then to try to add more without a plan on what to do if it’s violated or not followed correctly doesn’t make sense.”

One of the things Morrell told the board was that in certain instances, such as on actions that have to do with vision, the vote should always be 7-0. He also noted that there should be a lot less split votes. But Sabinas doesn’t agree. “I’m not that type of personality that if it’s on the agenda it’s automatically going to pass. I was elected to speak up and point out things that don’t seem correct,” he said.

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