New school board members share their early impressions
After being officially sworn in on July 24, new members Brian Shannon and Dave Brown are in the early stages of their tenures on the Newberg School District board of directors. Both came in with ambitious platforms and a desire for reform. So far, Brown and Shannon say they've faced tests to their patience with how the board operates.
"It's been interesting," Shannon said. "It's very early, but I am cautiously optimistic that we have people on the board who are open to pushing for reform. We'll have to see how it shakes out in a few months."
The board members met Aug. 3 for a get-together that involved mostly training, then convened for a formal board meeting Aug. 6. There hasn't been much opportunity for in-depth conversation, but so far Shannon said he senses a hesitance in his fellow board members.
He added that he feels many are walking on eggshells to avoid upsetting certain people in the community, and that the board needs to address the adversarial relationship it has with the community in order to reach a level playing field with those they serve.
"I think there are good people on this board, but I think the board has a culture that needs to be opened up," Shannon said. "The board as a body needs to re-engage with the community. There's almost sort of a siege mentality that, because they're under a microscope, they're hesitant to move in any big way."
Shannon advocates for changing one of their monthly meetings to a work group format in order to boost productivity. He is also a proponent of greater transparency between the board and community, allowing people a more frequent and detailed peek behind the proverbial curtain.
More communication and discussion among the board members will be necessary in order to break out of old habits, Shannon said, and not fall back on the safe approach to taking action.
"We need to be willing to embrace some form of controversy in order to move the ball forward," Shannon said. "You just have to accept that and do what is best for the district and the community. Some people are going to be mad at you no matter what."
While Shannon has said he wishes more people would attend board meetings and "see for themselves" exactly how the board is run, Brown said stakeholders in the community have already approached him in public. He sees his joining the school board as an opportunity to meet the needs of people he's been getting to know for decades, whether it be in a school setting or as a coach.
"People stop me at Safeway and on the street walking my dog, and I know how passionate people are for wanting to see things get better," Brown said. "But that's such a general term, because there are so many things we do well, and when you use that term – 'get better' – it sounds like everything is wrong. It's not. We just have a few things that need to get better."
Brown admits he is still figuring out exactly how the board operates, along with how to work with his fellow board members. He, Shannon and fellow board member Rebecca Piros attended the Oregon School Board Association conference in Bend this summer and he said they learned "plenty" from that.
Brown took issue with some of the approaches that this and other boards have to certain issues, but was relieved to see that roughly 70 percent of the board members in attendance were new. Back home, it's been a process getting to know everyone.
"I'm figuring people out," Brown said. "Brian and I are new, so we don't know all their nuances. Any time you add somebody new to your group there's going to be that feeling out period."
Reform to certain aspects of the school district is something Brown plans to push for, but he's not sure yet how he and other like-minded board members will do that. Patience is something he said he's had to learn in recent weeks and he thinks Shannon is going through a similar process.
Ultimately, Brown hopes that he can have a hand in making major changes to the district that will benefit the modern student. As a longtime coach, he often uses sports metaphors to better communicate his ideas, and he hopes the other board members are receptive of potential changes.
It has been a challenge so far.
"I've been frustrated and I've been excited," Brown said. "I've gone for a lot of walks the last couple weeks trying to find patience with this whole process. I think it's going to be much slower than I'd like."
The next board meeting, which includes a portion for public comment, is at 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at the district offices on Sixth Street.
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