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Brocton school board assesses itself in workshop

December 20, 2013
By Greg Fox - , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

BROCTON - The Brocton Board of Education recently held its first development workshop after the failed merger vote with Westfield Academy and Central School, and the topic of conversation was itself.

In a private meeting, board members and Superinten-dent John Hertlein met with Erie 2-Chautauqua-Catt-araugus BOCES Superin-tendent Dr. David O'Rourke, as well as the assistant superintendent for management services at BOCES, John O'Connor. O'Rourke and O'Connor went through a PowerPoint presentation detailing the roles and responsibilities of school boards in general.

"The main thing I think the board took away from this meeting is that the key to a successful board is communication, communication, communication," Hertlein said in a phone interview after the meeting. "They do a good job of that, but they can do better. And that communication is between board members, it's between board members and the administration, and it's between board members and the community. There is that political pressure on them, as well as that community pressure."

Board President Doug Walter echoed what Hertlein said, and added the board had discussed how to move forward in the next several years.

"We were looking at several things: Better communication between the board members and better communication between the community and the board. Just ways we can improve," he said in a phone interview. "I think we have a pretty good relationship with the community as a whole, this board especially, because all the board members have kids or grandkids in the school. We're concentrating on Brocton and ... how to make the school stronger and better."

Hertlein said the board members are a team and must work well with both themselves and him, as the superintendent.

"They have to have each other's backs, but they must also be individualized in their thinking," he added. "We're not looking for rubber stamps. Overall, it looks like the board members got what they needed to know about their jobs from this meeting."

The OBSERVER obtained a copy of the PowerPoint that was discussed in the private meeting, which listed a number of issues that can potentially put pressure on boards.

The list included: Deep philosophical differences among team members; personality conflicts and local political interests; a lack of teamwork and common focus; a lack of trust and respect; the mentality that the board "has the votes" ahead of time; outside pressures from special interests or poor financial conditions; insufficient or untimely factual information available; and a lack of confidence in the administration and/or board itself.

Additional potential pressure points included: An inability to admit mistakes or a lack of humility to apologize; negotiations impasses; a lack of transparency; the assumption that a rumor is true; no clear chain of command, which can lead to inconsistent treatment of the issues; poor public and media relations; and a difficulty or confusion in separating roles.

The PowerPoint then listed three tips to avoid these problems, including: Preventing problems before they occur (treating all board members with equal respect; anticipating responses to negative reaction; avoiding secret meetings and pre-arranged agreements; and building trust); communicating and setting norms (sharing concerns immediately; discussing issues with all board members; and avoiding mixed messages); and acting like a team (identifying differences and planning solutions together; resisting taking a position without full information; and avoiding assumptions of board roles).

Walter said additional development workshops are in the works. The additional workshops will cover where the district is at regarding its finances, curriculum and mission statement, as well as what stakeholders in the community want to see for the school going into the future.

"We're also looking to design specific goals for the district and try to follow up on those," Walter said.



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