The Stoughton Area school board is planning some big changes in how it operates, even if they might go largely unnoticed.
At the group’s recent board retreat Saturday, Jan. 11, members discussed policies for leading community discussion on important issues like enrollment decline, new committee structures and how to get board members working together more efficiently after elections.
The retreat was one of four or five the board has held since Frank Sullivan was elected president in April 2018, he told the Hub on Monday. Sullivan said the sessions have been useful in discussing complex, in-depth issues.
“(It’s) subjects that require more time and attention than people can bring to them in a board meeting where there are 20 things on the agenda and everyone’s tired,” he said.
The first such meeting was to “get everything on the table” that people thought were important with a change in board presidents and several new members.
“Sort of a brain dump,” Sullivan said.
That meeting brought up discussions like how to properly put items on the agenda, considering green technology and dealing with bullying. The biggest breakthrough, Sullivan said, was a “mutual pledge” to assume good intentions with each other and staff, something he said has gone a long way in bringing everyone together.
Now, with the board seemingly rowing in the same direction, it is focusing on how it governs, how it makes decisions and how it works with administrators. That could lead to a complete overhaul of its policies.
The policy committee, led by Tim Bubon, has been working on making those changes for the past year, as the district has hired a consultant to help suggest policy changes that fit Stoughton. Among the goals is easing transitions for new board members so the board can be more effective more quickly.
“Many of us had an experience when we came on the board that it was difficult to sort of figure out how the board worked, how to get anything done and what your responsibilities were,” Sullivan said. “That experience has shaped some of the policies coming out of this – orientation and mentorship for new board members… what you need to do to get something on the agenda and what peoples’ roles are.”
With the board set to lose one member, Jon Coughlin, who is leaving the district, and two other incumbents up for re-election, Sullivan said the goal is to have the policies updated and approved before the board takes on any new members after the April election.
One of the biggest changes is creating new committees devoted specifically to long-range planning and educational oversight, Sullivan said, with each responsible for setting priorities that they’ll bring to the board for a vote.
“As we’re looking at the really big questions coming down the pike for the district, it’s clear that our value is engaging those big questions and helping to shape and lead a community discussion,” he said. “For example, what does it mean that our enrollment continues to decline? What is the impact that’s going to have on our district?”