Sunday, September 11, 2011

Letter: School Board should learn from mistakes, reflect upon role

The following letter comes from resident and frequent Blog-Lebo commenter Bill Matthews. —Tom

On Monday, 09-12-11, the School Board will discuss Policy GBEE, Student Communications. This policy highlights a couple reasons the Board struggles in the performance of its duties: 1) The Board is not a learning organization, and 2) The Board overestimates its role in our Community.

Immediately following is a discussion on how the Board could have learned something from the circumstances concerning Mrs. Posti’s blog and subsequently applied the lessons to their work, in particular this policy. Secondly, I think this policy highlights an opportunity for the Board to recalibrate its role in the community and with our professional staff. Solemn, meaningful reflection would very much benefit our youth, district, and community in the near and longer term.

1) Not A Learning Organization

The draft policy requires that: “Employees shall post only accurate information, adhere to all copyright laws, and reference all sources as required by law.”

Recently the Board had a very public lesson in not referencing sources. If the Board learned anything, it should have learned that referencing sources is generally governed by personal, professional and/or academic standards, not the law.

As an example, the High School plagiarism quiz asserts: “Plagiarism is stealing somebody’s idea or words without giving credit to that person … Do not risk your academic standing by not carefully and completely citing your sources. Please refer to the Student-Parent Handbook for Mt. Lebanon School District’s policy on Academic Integrity, including plagiarism.”

Students are referred to an academic standard, not the law. The Board policy should establish an appropriate standard of review, as opposed to relying on the imprecise and deficient standard: “as required by law.”

2) Overestimates Its Role in Our Community

a) The draft policy contemplates that in addition to faculty, volunteers, students, parents and guardians, the policy “shall be communicated to … (a)ll other members of the community.” The term “community” is undefined in the policy. Our common usage of the term is the community of Mt. Lebanon.

Is this a new expectation that Board policies be communicated to “(a)ll members of the community”, regardless of the applicability or need to know? For what purpose and at what cost would the Board charge the Administration with such communications? Seems like watt-less energy and may reflect little more than the self-importance of the Board to begin communicating policies to the community indiscriminately. Discretion is advised here.

b) Policy GBEE uses “community” in another context, which might be even more important than to whom this policy is to be communicated.

This draft policy states: “Employees are reminded that they are professionals and are representatives of both the district and the community in all aspects of their lives and should conduct themselves accordingly when utilizing social media/networking.”

Employees are “representatives of both the district and the community” – if it were me, I would sure want to know what the oligarchs intend in terms of “the community” and who I am to represent.

Almost more mystifying, the policy contemplates that “(e)mployees … are representatives of the district and community ... in all aspects of their lives …” Come on now – “all aspects of their lives” – give me a break.

On behalf of our admired and dedicated professionals, I say to your oppressors – Mind Your Own Beeswax!

Bill Matthews
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