Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:36 PM on Wednesday, June 13, 2012

School district should embrace the three Cs

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District needs to add three "Cs" to the academic "Rs" of readin', 'writin' and 'rithmetic: collaboration, clear communication and community.

A couple of recent missteps indicate the school district has room for improvement in those areas. One example was earlier this year when the brouhaha erupted over student transportation costs — which was district-speak for changing school start and end times on the southern Kenai Peninsula. The reasons for wanting the change were — and remain — valid, but the way the district went about trying to get community buy-in for the changes left a lot to be desired. The perception was the district had made a decision and then asked for ideas from the community without intending to do anything with them.

Rule No. 1 of collaboration, clear communication and community: Don't ask if you don't really want to know.

The Legislature saved the day by appropriating more money for student transportation, but that issue still needs to be revisited. Changes could save the district lots of money, but there needs to be a process that involves the district clearly communicating the issue and then collaborating with the community on the best possible solutions.

More recently, there's been an uproar over a search for a principal at Fireweed Academy, with a lot of the same issues involved. At least some Fireweed parents felt as if they were blindsided. The process lacked transparency.

While the charter school's academic policy committee is charged with hiring the school principal, it's the district's responsibility to make sure the volunteers who serve on the committee know the rules involved.

It's not fair to anyone — including those who serve — to be given the responsibility to make decisions without also giving them the rules — the tools — under which they must operate.

One of the most important rules is the state's Open Meetings Act. "It is the policy of the state that the governmental units mentioned in AS 44.62.310(a) exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business," the law reads. "The people's right to remain informed shall be protected so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

Last week, the citizen volunteers that make up the Fireweed Academy Academic Policy Committee got a crash course in the Open Meetings Act. It's unfortunate the hiring process had to go awry before that happened.

While it would be helpful for volunteers to read and understand the Open Meetings Act and learn the basics of parliamentary procedure, teaching volunteers how to do that is a task school district officials should teach. And they should make it a priority.

Following the Open Meetings Act shouldn't be done just for the sake of the law itself, but for the law's spirit, which really boils down to collaboration, clear communication and community. The district can't pick and choose when it wants the community's involvement and when it's just too much trouble to reach out.

The district at all levels will have more success in teaching those three Rs of education when they embrace the three Cs. It's a lesson that will have the most impact when it's taught from the top down.