Dance of Truth

He said, She said. They said, We said.

ISD#833

Streaming of workshop meetings is approved!

So what is true and what is not?

How is a person supposed to recognize the liar from the saint? It is tough, truly it is tough. We want so badly to find that one truth teller to ally with … that one person, organization, news outlet, or candidate. It is mid-term election season, and boy can we feel it, can’t we? Who can we trust to lead us forward into the future? We WANT it to be as easy as that candidate who seems to have the magic wand solutions to solve inflation and health care and security and education all in one, simple organized structure. But life just doesn’t work that way. Feelings don’t solve problems. Words don’t create lasting change by themselves, and without substance they are hollow … shallow … meaningless.

Why IS it that we latch onto a human, a group, or a system for our security? I would argue it is because we WANT life to be easy. We WANT to enjoy our personal comforts – our kids, our families, our food and our hobbies. Somehow we are under the misguided impression that we deserve the easy comfortable life. We WANT someone else to facilitate that level of comfort FOR us, but is that sustaining? It doesn’t seem to be. We WANT leaders we can trust, but do we follow through supporting those leaders? Do we show up regularly to meetings? Do we recognize their voting patterns? Do we hold them accountable based on firsthand observation?

It is far easier (and entertaining) to take the abbreviated summary of a news outlet, radio personality or podcast opinion than it is to watch the full interview, right? I have to say though, that when attending city council meetings, I have never felt like it was a waste of my time. ISD#833 school board meetings are a bit more pretentious than the city’s, but this is also how I come to understand the way the system works.

Over 18,000 children are in the care of our district for a period of time longer than some children are in the care of their families. How is your child treated in the classroom? Since we, as parents, aren’t allowed to be IN the classroom, how are we to understand why our children are so depressed about going to school? How are we to help them?

Attend a school board meeting. Witness the culture firsthand. It can be quite revealing to see the structure of hierarchy in place to influence the mind of your child.

The human condition is not simple. It is COMPLEX. There is no one-size-fits-all mandate or system or human being alive that will meet all of our needs. The world is bigger than any of us, and the work that has to be done is even bigger. My hope comes from the Lord because he alone has the answers. He is bigger than the world and bigger than our problems. We are all in a constant state of learning. We can’t learn very well while we are talking though, can we? My hope is in the steady engagement of a wise community listening and learning together.

This is the reason why I go to so many meetings. I go to listen and to learn. I don’t often speak, because when I am speaking I am not absorbing.

I began recording public officials during public school board meetings after the board voted to end this courtesy to it’s viewing public in 2021. The act of recording was not a malicious act on my part. I learn best when distractions are minimized, so recording became a way for me to review the parts of the meeting that interested me the most.

As I saw the ebb and flow of public participation through these board meetings every month, I learned a lot about how the wants and needs of residents sometimes collide with the wants and needs of school districts. It also became clear to me how difficult the job of a school board member CAN be. Through repetitive observation, I can recognize the members who are interested in learning versus those who are not. I can recognize the members who put in the hard work versus those who behave more like puppets.

I wonder, who is pulling the puppet’s strings? Though the puppet master cannot be seen, their influence can definitely be felt.

It is true that school districts, school boards, and all elected officials, for that matter, have a duty to represent the people. The people, however, ALSO have a duty. Should we emerge abruptly from our complacency to show up at local meetings in anger when bad policy reaches the doorsteps of our home? No. The people have a duty to stay engaged, listen, ask questions, and request changes on a regular basis. Observing the actions of our leaders helps us recognize patterns in their honesty. There is no “easy” when it comes to the unequivocal, unchanging truth of any human being. Think of your best friend and the trust that takes a lifetime to establish. Will you ever find that in your elected officials? Only if you put in the work.

So with limited amount of time to devote in far too many areas, what is a good citizen to do? This is a balance I struggle with myself … but balance is precisely the point. Without God’s guidance, I become overwhelmed with irrelevant distractions that consume all of my time and leave me unproductive and unfulfilled. It is not one persons job to attend every single meeting around town, but one person CAN attend a handful of meetings and maintain balance in life.

Glimmer of Hope

SoWashCo PUBLIC meeting September 22nd

All in all, I have to say, I was encouraged by this meeting. The school administration and board may not be happy that I am recording them, which is pretty evident in their dialogue, but if it results in more transparency then I can live with that.

This transcript is taken directly from the official ISD#833 recorded Meeting. View minute 56:10 on their channel HERE.

Superintendent Julie Nielsen

7.1 Streaming Workshop Meetings. “August 11th, the board had a discussion around the live streaming of the workshop meetings themselves. At that meeting it was asked that I bring back additional information which was provided to the board … Currently the workshop meetings are set up to create an environment where board members can engage in conversation and dialogue around topics on the agenda that it’s not live stream for the public. Board members and executive cabinet members are typically arranged in various formats. The additional cost to return to live streaming the workshop meetings would be approximately two thousand seven hundred and sixty dollars for a total of twelve thousand two hundred sixty dollars per year.”

Eric Tessmer

“I will make a motion in the affirmative to stream.”

Melinda Dols

“We discussed at our Workshop meeting trial period rather than doing a whole year if we could do like a three-month period or something a quarterly thing to see how it goes to see if we’re getting views rather than paying that full amount.”

Louise Hinz

“I understand Melinda’s comment on how many people actually view. I do believe there’s the viewing public, and then it’s who talks to the viewing public as well. So irregardless of the number of views, I think there’s a bigger impact outside of how many actually view so I’m not sure that’s the measure I would use.”

There are only a handful of audience members at any given workshop, and I am typically the only one recording the discussions, so it’s pretty easy to tell who they are talking about in this instance.

Simi Patnaik

“The things I really have appreciated about our Workshop meetings is that we’ve been able to have these small group dialogues, or have dialogues around a table. It feels more collegial and less, you know official right, than sitting up here, and so I would really hate for us to have to sit up here just to have the workshop meetings … the workshop needs to be set up for us to do our business best, because I think to your point, it’s helpful for, we may only get five people watching us or whatever but I think it’s also just helpful for people to, if they do have a point of clarification to be able to go back and watch, or when someone says something, people can look for themselves and see, okay I’m hearing Simi’s words differently, for example, right if someone says … Simi said X on the internet, and so I think from that standpoint, I think it’s helpful for the community to see us do the workshop, because I think one of the other concerns I had, as we went through this bond process, is that because these are the only times that people can see the work that we do, if they don’t happen to come to the meeting, that it feels like maybe people can’t see the three hours that we spend in a workshop discussing each proposal or whatever and so they don’t necessarily get a full picture of the work that happens outside of this meeting.”

Very good points. In fact, school board member Carlo Montgomery, who served on the board in the 1980’s, told me a very interesting story about their success at implementing the very first recorded meetings. To Simi’s point, the school board wanted to protect themselves against the growing inaccuracy by the attending public to misrepresent their discussions. Recorded video has the added benefit of protecting the honesty of the discussion.

I want to be clear though that I am NOT misrepresenting the board. I don’t make claims that I can’t back up, and the proof is in the video. I am merely presenting another opinion that contradicts the boards opinion, and they do not like this. They are used to having the upper hand in all matters of debate, but my blog is something they can’t control. The lie that “You are the only one who disagrees” doesn’t work as well when the opposition organizes to prove otherwise.

Melinda Dols

“I agree with Simi on that as far as, I think there’s a lot of benefit in the public having that ability to be able to actually go back and watch that stream. I don’t want to end up being back here in the dios for those Workshop meetings … We are a public entity, so I I don’t have a problem with that being recorded, but once again, I think it would be good if we could have a trial period somehow.”

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Julie Nielsen

“And maybe when we think about the setup and what’s on the agenda we can work to organize into that rectangular shape and if need be we would communicate with board members just that this is going to be in small groups so there may be portions of this that you’re unable to hear because the discussion is occurring in a small group but anytime we’ve done that I believe we’ve always done like a large group share out and so that’s an opportunity then to summarize for anybody who’s watching.”

Katie Schwartz

“I mean, to Louise’s point, there are people that just because we don’t get a lot of views doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t talking about it. I just I really don’t want to lose those small groups, and that’s my big thing is I think when we were working on the bond I think a lot of information got shared in those small groups that if we were in a large group I don’t think we would have as much opportunity to share that information. So I mean I don’t think that we can be miked at those times I mean that would have to be something that we’d have to you know somebody can announce at these this portion will not be on the microphone make sure everybody has them turned off because you don’t want a lot of and people thinking they hear something that maybe they don’t hear or something, and then do the share outs I mean we always do the share outs and obviously it’s not going to be word for word what led by each person but I think it is um that that portion is okay.

“I do feel like sometimes when the microphone and the camera is off that some people do feel a little more like they can speak their mind because they know that it’s not going to be on the Internet, or ask a question that maybe they feel would be like a silly question and they not want to ask it, and I just don’t want to lose that where somebody doesn’t feel like they can ask a question because they don’t want to seem like they don’t know what they’re talking about and that’s the one thing I don’t want people to lose is that ability to feel like they can share that information and not have somebody throw it back in in their face for asking a question that somebody might think is a silly question.”

Melinda Dols

“I do get that, but then we also have audience members who are recording us anyway.”

Sharon Van Leer

“Exactly.”

Katie Schwartz

“True but it’s different when somebody has to go to somebody that maybe has a hundred followers versus a YouTube channel that somebody can know to go to. I think there is a big difference in that, and I just want people to feel comfortable asking the question, and I know people in the past have asked a question at a board meeting and it’s been put on the that why don’t they know this they’re on the school board they should know this and that’s not okay. I mean we’re just like everybody else. I mean, besides Pat and Melinda we don’t have an educational, oh and Louise, I mean so a majority of the board does not have an education background, and I think that’s important too to know that we have to ask those questions and that’s really the only time that we can talk to each other and get sometimes those questions answered.”

As long as Katie brings up viewership, ISD#833 covers a population over 100,000 people and spans seven cities/townships. Upon quick glance of their streamed meetings, they average 200 views per meeting.

Pat Driscoll

“I like the idea of having those sessions, you know, with the small groups and then the share out is recorded. I think that that’ll work well for us.

Simi Patnaik

“I mean I just, you know, like I said earlier I don’t want to lose the the intimacy and the collegiality that we have in our Workshop meetings, because I agree with you Katie, like it we get such good work done there we we have such good conversations and um yeah until you brought up that people may use your words again I mean I say boneheaded things all the time so I um it didn’t occur to me until you just said it that someone would do that but um you know I’m I guess secure in my bone-headedness.”

Sharon Van Leer

“Are those sessions taped? They’re not taped, are they?

Julie Nielsen

“No, not right now.”

Sharon Van Leer

“Okay, I was going to say, maybe that’s a way we could get around it, because I like, you know, us being able to to um demonstrate how we feel candidly and not have it thrown back in our face. And they ARE being taped. They are being taped, and so people, I mean, and also it’s transcribed. Doesn’t it go out into the district news?

The superintendent redirects the discussion back to the district by taking credit for the idea to transcribe meetings, kind of like I do at JAiME for SCHOOLS …

Julie Nielsen

“So thank you! That’s a good reminder. so one of the things I think it was when you came back from one of your conferences with all the many ideas you brought back, it was great. I like when people come back from a conference and they have like a hundred great ideas, but this was really a good idea.

After our board meetings, we are going to be summarizing. So if a board meeting is on Thursday nights, staff will get the summary of the board meeting on Sunday nights, and then the following Thursday our families would get it. Only because four o’clock or five o’clock our family newsletter goes out, and so it’s not ready for obviously today, so we would have to wait a week. But they will be getting kind of a summary of every board meeting along with a link to the information, so that’s another way we’re working to increase transparency and what we’re doing. So people have that quick link to go get the information about a board meeting.

Melinda Dols

“Are we talking about the link going right to the actual recorded …”

Julie Nielsen

“Yeah, we would go right to the board meeting link, but also to the documents because sometimes, depending upon some of the financial updates, it’s beneficial to be able to actually look at some of the Powerpoints, because we know that’s one area that you know as we heard the transparency around budget. Every board meeting we have a budget update, and so if people really want that information we will make sure the link is right there and then they can access it either through the family newsletter or the staff newsletter.

Louise Hinz

“With this, in terms of the summary, are we talking about decisions and actions or summarizing conversations?”

Pepe Barton

“I think we’ll have to see, because workshops are just discussions, so I think I’m we’re thinking a sentence or two bullet for each topic and just summarizing those with links back to any documents.”

That sounds wonderful! I am very encouraged by this decision! It will boil down to trust in the end, of course. The transcription will need to demonstrate routine accuracy and honesty in order for an ever growing population of truth seekers to accept it’s validity.

Which brings me back to the beginning … What is true and what is not? How is a person supposed to recognize truth through the thick fog of lies? I believe it can be achieved in the same way as a beacon at sea guides the ship to shore.

First, search for it.

Second, identify it.

Third, don’t take your eyes of of it.

And … the motion was carried 6-1 . Very encouraging!

My work to reveal the truth appears to be making an impact. Little victories are important, and I thank the Lord for always directing my path.

by JAiME for SCHOOLS on October 6th, 2022

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