This past Monday I attended the meeting of the Kodiak Island Borough School District Board of Education following my last meeting at the high school, which was the high school’s CTE (vo-tech) community open house earlier this month. And the common theme, as far as I can tell, was that at each meeting the mantra was “kids come first,” while the fact was, they don’t. But for different reasons.
At the earlier CTE meeting, what I had expected was that the high school staff was there to gather ideas from Kodiak residents as to how CTE programs could be improved. However, what transpired was a short presentation by the various CTE instructors on each of their programs followed by a breakout to the various CTE shops.
And the common theme that I heard throughout these talks was frustration on the part of the CTE instructors as to the amount of time they spend on non-teaching-related bureaucratic functions, leaving inadequate time for actual engagement with their students.
Thus, when ideas for more active engagement with the community were proposed, the teachers were encouraging and open to such suggestions. But when the details of such engagement were discussed, more than one teacher put off the actual implementation of a particular proposal, the reason being that the particular proposal would take up time that he or she did not have and that his or her students were being shortchanged on actual teaching time as is.
A third observation of mine was that several teacher ideas for their respective programs had real merit. But the way the system works, the bureaucracy of the system tends to limit and dictate to a teacher what and how he is going to teach rather than to support and encourage him in going forward with some of his own ideas: essentially top-down vs. bottom-up. The argument is that an individual teacher’s ideas may not integrate well with those of KIBSD Inc., with its superabundant schedule of faculty meetings to vertically integrate courses, horizontally integrate courses, diagonally integrate courses, ad nauseam. And if from the curriculum developed from this cacophony of integration a teacher should object, he does so at the peril of his contract not being renewed and an inauspicious recommendation to his next potential employer.
Fast-forwarding to Monday’s meeting, the high school’s CTE prototype electric car was on display, and several of the students involved in the design, construction and fielding of the competition team for the car made a presentation, with questions from the board following. Also, there were some student and volunteer awards handed out, which essentially was the sum total of focus being on students.
The bulk of the three-hour meeting was spent discussing budgetary items and labor contract issues. Whereas these are important areas for discussion and lead to a smooth-running school district, they do not directly impact the student experience, which I see as endemic to many school board meetings: excessive time spent on procedure (how to) rather than focusing on clearly defining that which needs to be done (what is it that you are trying to accomplish), and then letting the school superintendent figure out how to implement the policy.
During the above business and following one somewhat kumbaya presentation, there was a moment of freshness and levity when one of the board members observed that it would be nice if some of the teachers who presented before the school board were ones who disagreed with the school board’s approach to the issue under discussion.
Zounds! Does this then portend a school board where every vote is not going to be 5-0? What a discordant thought: members who now strive not for board unanimity, but rather for what they consider to be in the best interests of the kids. Which would be a nice change.
All of which, of course, is just my opinion.
Jeff Stewart is a retired project manager and former member of the KIBSD Board of Education.