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Communication still a priority for school board

Board wants to be kept up-to-date on district business, updates, news

School board members want better communication.

At a Monday night workshop specifically devoted to communication protocols, the Newton Community School District Board of Education broadly discussed possible solutions to this dilemma, which primarily concerns incoming information members receive from the superintendent.

The meeting was also a way for members to discuss their communication needs and when they would like to receive news or updates. Typically, superintendent Bob Callaghan publicly divulges information to the board through his eponymous report regularly scheduled in the agenda.

School board member Donna Cook drew attention to those superintendent reports, which she argued there was a lack of in October and November. Robyn Friedman, president of the school board, said she did make a request to have more superintendent reports.

“It’s good to remind him those are still helpful to us and even more important now,” Friedman said. “I’ll just make it known that still is an expectation.”

Unless Callaghan was not present at these meetings, the school board agenda actually did include scheduled items for the superintendent’s report on Dec. 16, Nov. 18, Oct. 28 and Oct. 14 about current student information and several facilities updates, among other things.

Cody Muhs, vice-president of the school board, asked board members if they would like to add or change the superintendent report. Cook said one difference between the previous superintendent and Callaghan was the former’s communication was more of a preview and background about the agenda.

“The other thing I would say is when things happen within our district, within our buildings, (like) incidents, I want to be aware of them,” Cook said. “I don’t want to read about them in the paper, read about them on Facebook or hear about them from somebody else.”

If at all possible, she added, and if the superintendent is aware, Cook wants information to be sent to the board. The information can be “broad,” but Cook suggested she does not want to feel out of the loop. Fellow board member Graham Sullivan agreed with Cook’s point.

Friedman said, “So that is a little bit of where the protocol side of this is coming from … We may all have different levels of what we feel like we need to know. And I don’t know that has been a clear directive. Clearly, the next superintendent sitting in this spot also we’ll have to have similar conversation.”

However, newcomer board member Mark Thayer said the bar should not be set at Facebook and suggested the speed in which information is spread through social media cannot be competed.

Board member Travis Padget noted that he was not made aware of the early out this past Friday until students had already been relieved from classes.

“It would be nice to know those things,” Padget said.

To better address the board’s communication concerns, a handbook may be an option; one that is equipped with a “cheat sheet,” per se, and a clear information hierarchy, as well as possible definitions of acronyms.

Board members also looked at the information presented on board agendas and whether it was clear to the public.

Strong communication skills is also an attribute the board wants from its next superintendent after Callaghan officially resigns June 30. Results from an online stakeholder survey in December 2019 identified board members’ priorities in finding a a superintendent with essential professional and personal skills.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

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