Scottsdale school board hopefuls discuss the importance of effective communication

Scottsdale Unified School District voters will elect two people to the local Governing Board Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Patty Beckman and Jann-Michael Greenburg are the official candidates in pursuit of school board seats meanwhile former SUSD Governing Board member Christine Schild has announced her candidacy as a write-in candidate.

Ms. Beckman, a mother of twin girls at Mohave Middle School, has lived in the Town of Paradise Valley since 2002. She has a background in finance with a degree from Arizona State University.

Mr. Greenburg is a 2012 Arcadia High School graduate. Following graduation he went to law school at the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated with a first class honors degree in law in 2016.

Ms. Schild, a Scottsdale resident since 1993 practiced law until retiring and changing to inactive status in 2014. She was elected to the Scottsdale school board in 2002, and served from 2003-07.

The Independent offers it’s fourth installment in a question-and-answer series seeking to better understand how these candidates interpret the local education issues that matter.

This week’s installment focuses on how these candidates believe they will communicate Governing Board business internally, to the outside world and at what level they believe they are obligated to. This is what they had to say:

Jann-Michael Greenburg

Jann-Michael Greenburg

• If elected to the school board, will communication be important to you?

Communication between district officials and the community is very important, and certainly falls within the broader issues of accountability and transparency that our district currently faces. It is unfortunate that our board and administration have historically failed to implement means of reaching families and community members on a more routine basis, identifying key topics that the board will be discussing, when they will be discussing them, and how stakeholders can comment on them.

In part, this is made difficult by the fact that some agendas are not finalized until a week or so before the meeting occurs. At the same time, it is equally difficult for parents, students, and teachers who are focused on their own work to take the time out of their busy schedules and attempt to sort out what is being discussed and being voted on, and it is our job to make this as easy and straightforward as possible.

One way to address this problem is to send simple, routine e-mails to all district families, teachers, and staff highlighting this information and providing the means for stakeholders to provide feedback. Our district should also ensure that it does not rush decisions and permits ample time to both disseminate this information and receive such feedback before making any decisions.

The district ought to create a page on the main district website identifying these key issues as well so that it is always easily accessible by the public. If there are very urgent and important matters the board will be addressing that the board feels needs to be brought to the attention of parents, the board can, of course, send home flyers with students to have their parents read.

Finally, publicizing very important matters in broader publications (e.g., newspapers) might be prudent, and I believe that inviting specific stakeholders who are able to discuss certain topics with authority and/or personal knowledge as one example might be: if cutting or adding special needs programs are being discussed, it might be that parents of special needs students ought to be specifically invited to attend the meeting and give their views to the boar.

• As an elected official how do you plan to communicate with your constituents?

There are a number of ways to communicate with constituents, and the most important aspect of such communication is to make your tentative and final views known on issues and provide the reasons why you are supporting a particular policy. Elected officials need to be held to account and remaining silent only causes concern among the community when it cannot ascertain how its elected officials will vote until the actual vote occurs, a problem which has occurred multiple times with the current members of the Governing Board.

Personally, I intend to do a number things to ensure I maintain an appropriate level of communication with SUSD constituents. I intend to submit routine questions to the district’s administration, the answers to which I will publish online on my website and on other social media platforms. I intend to hold town-hall-style meetings every six months or so, which will allow community members to meet with me, ask any questions, voice any concerns, and gauge the community’s feelings about various policies the district adopts and the direction the district is heading. I will also respond to e-mails as necessary or pass them on to the appropriate personnel to handle within the district.

I also intend to ensure that my website has an FAQ section, which will direct members of the community to the relevant resources for standard matters (e.g., board meetings, student/teacher complaints, and so on). I also hope to attend PTO/APT/SPC meetings when possible and generally stay involved in community meetings where my attendance might be beneficial in answering questions or addressing matters community members might raise.

Patty Beckman

Patty Beckman

• If elected to the school board, will communication be important to you?

Communication is important in every organization; however, in a school district it is a critical component of success. Great communication can empower school and district leadership and their constituents. The community expects open and clear communication on all decisions, from broad issues such as the district’s strategic goals to site-level events, such as a school dance.

SUSD has struggled with effective communication for some time. Our district can resolve this issue by establishing a strong communication department willing to embrace every modern means of reaching out to the community. We are living in a technological world. People expect to have information quickly and easily accessible. Tools such as social media, text alerts, parent and teacher surveys, and an up-to-date website can provide tremendous value.

Conversely, we must be prepared to reach out to technically disadvantaged families by knowing where there may be a need for further outreach and more traditional communication. It all comes to being connected to the community.

Ensuring that our Governing Board work with and support organizations such as the Scottsdale Parent Council and school PTO’s are other very productive ways to communicate with and involve our community. Many families choose SUSD because they believe in the “neighborhood public school.” We have an obligation to keep them informed about what is actually happening in that school community.

•How do you view the level of communication between the school board members and their constituents?

Improvement is needed to establish effective communication between SUSD board members and their constituents. A board member must be willing to meet and listen to the concerns of the community. Most people just want their concerns to be heard and addressed, often before they become a larger issue to one or many students. This past year, many committed and passionate individuals brought issues to our Governing Board that could have been handled in an expedient and positive manner; instead the result was an investigation by the Arizona Attorney General. My hope is the new board will have learned from past mistakes and improve on reciprocal communication going forward.

Discussions regarding action by the Governing Board to the community well in advance of the minimal mandated guideline of 24 hours. One day’s notice is not an adequate amount of time for a parent or guardian to make plans for child care and travel to the board meeting if a topic of interest is on the agenda. We also must respect our community and their time.

I will strongly advocate for our board meeting’s invitation for public comment to begin immediately following student celebrations. Parents who want to exercise their legal right to speak should not be forced to be away from their families for hours or feel guilty if they must leave early. This board has stated that the current order of agenda is to allow all present to hear the latest news. Parents can catch up on the recorded meeting for news, they can not speak publicly from home.

•As an elected official how do you plan to communicate with your constituents?

Since I announced my candidacy in January of this year, I have made it a priority to meet with parents and community members to listen to their concerns and hear about their experiences in our district. I have learned an incredible amount and met some wonderful people. It became evident very quickly that what may be a preferred way to communicate for one person may not be for another.

I intend on continuing all of the different communication methods I am using currently: phone calls, texting, social media, e-mails, and coffee. I am open to meeting with anyone, anytime. I will strive, to the best of my ability, to listen, hear and respond to all my constituents. My priority will always be students, families, teachers, district and this community as a whole. Together, we will demonstrate why we have been and will continue to be a destination district in Arizona.

Christine Schild

Christine Schild

• If elected to the school board, will communication be important to you?

Communication has to be a priority. Transparency can only be achieved through effective communication of accurate information. The district must do a better job. Parents are often unaware of pending board actions or parent meetings because they do not receive up-to-date information.

The district should develop an email newsletter for parents that includes general district information as well as school specific information. The newsletter should be posted to each school’s website and distributed to parents by email. The District must also take advantage of social media platforms such as Nextdoor to reach community members who do not have children in our schools.

•How do you view the level of communication between the school board members and their constituents?

School board members should act as liaisons between the District and the community. The Board and District need to do a better job of reaching out to the community before making decisions that impact schools.
Parents and others affected by any board decision should have an opportunity to voice their opinions on issues that affect their children or their neighborhood before the decision is made. The District must update the community regularly on any long-term projects to ensure parents and neighbors always have accurate information.

•As an elected official how do you plan to communicate with your constituents?

Last time I was on the board, I communicated regularly by writing opinion pieces for the newspapers on important issues. I responded to every email and was the only member to have a website that summarized actions taken at school board meetings. I attended Scottsdale Parent Council meetings, met with PTOs and the Scottsdale Education Association, had coffee with parents and stakeholders, and assisted the community whenever possible. I will continue to talk to neighbors, visit schools, attend community meetings, and work with the media to ensure all stakeholders have accurate information about decisions made by the school board.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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