At the District 65 School Board meeting on Sept. 9, Interim Superintendents Phil Ehrhardt and Heidi Wennstrom presented a proposed calendar for the Board’s meetings for this school year. The planning calendar lists on a broad basis what subjects will be discussed, what things the Board will take action on, and what reports will be provided to the Board for informational purposes at each regular meeting of the Board through June 8, 2020.

This was the first School Board meeting attended by Drs. Ehrhardt and Wennstrom, who were recently appointed Interim Superintendents for the District for the 2019-2020 school year while the Board is conducting its search for a new Superintendent.

Dr. Ehrhardt said the preparation of the planning calendar “has been a collaborative effort of the cabinet and Heidi and myself.

“The purpose of this was to streamline and to prioritize the efforts of both the Board of Education and the cabinet and at the same time make sure we are providing open and two-way communication and also being transparent with that as well.”

Dr. Wennstrom told members of the Board, “Our goal is to make sure you have all the information you need to govern properly, but also we want to be very predictable as we move forward and we have an idea of how to best focus our work.” She added they would like the Board to have more actionable, usable information that can help to inform the practices of the School District.

Dr. Wennstrom outlined six guidelines for Board meetings this school year. First, she said, “Working Board meetings will be held only for emerging needs throughout the year.” She said they would like the Board to keep the dates currently scheduled for working Board meetings available, “but we hope not to hold those meetings but to really spend our time focusing on work at the regular Board business meetings.” She added the administration would keep the Board informed about emerging issues through routine communication channels.

For the past several years, the School Board has held one regular meeting and one working meeting every month, except for July. Eliminating all the working Board meetings would eliminate about one-half of the School Board’s meetings.

Second, Dr. Wennstrom said they proposed to limit the items discussed at the regular Board meetings to no more than two items. She said, “The purpose of that is to do a deep dive and allow Board members to make the comments that they need to make. We do encourage you to come with succinct prepared statements on topics that are very important to you as Board members to get into the public record, but we also want to be efficient and effective and to hear a variety of voices at the table.”

Third, she said, discussion items that are not required will be added to the Board agenda only if they require action from the Board or community vetting. “We want to make sure we are focused on the most immediate topics,” she said.

Fourth, she said, non-required agenda items will focus on District priorities and will include information regarding implications for racial equity and collaboration with stakeholders, particularly internal stakeholders.

Fifth, “We will make every effort to eliminate redundancies in reporting, while still getting key, critical information out there for the Board and also the public.”

Sixth, she proposed exploring “alternative methods of keeping the Board and community informed about topics that used to be included in Board packets, but that do not align to our vision for effective and efficient Board reporting.” She suggested the Board could consider using its website or videos, which could be accessed by the community at a time when it was convenient for them to do so.

Board President Suni Kartha said, “I appreciate the desire to streamline. I think that’s definitely something we needed to do. Keeping the working board meetings there as optional shouldn’t be too difficult because they are at the same time as the Finance Committee meetings.

“I do want to make sure we have a shared understanding of what ‘emerging needs’ would necessitate discussion at a working Board meetings.” She said it may include topics that the community, from time to time, felt were important.

Board member Joey Hailpern said he appreciated reducing redundancy. He said, “The accountability reports are so important, but you don’t always need 30 pages for it. I’d like to hear more about identifying the need, which we already know, and have more space for the action planning and execution.”

Board member Candance Chow asked about reporting student outcomes (see link to story below), but otherwise Board members focused on ways to keep the community informed and engaged during the year.

Board members Rebeca Mendoza and Sergio Hernandez each asked about keeping the community informed, and Mr. Hernandez suggested leveraging parent and community groups that have already been formed. Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti said she wanted to be sure community members would continue to have the opportunity to bring matters before the Board.

Ms. Wennstrom said, “We are not in any way limiting public comment at any Board meetings” and that people could speak on matters whether or not they were on the agenda for that meeting.

Since working board meetings may be eliminated, Ms. Kartha and Mr. Hailpern suggested a public comment period could be set aside at the Board’s Finance Committee meetings, which for the past few years have been held immediately before the working board meetings.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...