Voters in Eastern Carver County just voted down two of three referendum questions. This ought to drive some deep reflection among the leaders of the district (school board, superintendent, cabinet) as to the root causes of this result.
I recently ‘retired’ from teaching after 35 years, the last 22 at Chaska and Chanhassen high schools. I chose to come to this district because this was a place where we could work together to figure out solutions to educational issues and work out strategies that were most helpful to the kids that we taught.
Over the past few years, the district has moved away from a collaborative model and moved toward a top-down approach. This has manifested itself in many ways, but the most insidious shift has been to diminish or discount feedback that went counter to the ‘accepted’ narrative.
Recent district initiatives, “Personalized Learning” and Standards Based Grading, have never really had clearly defined outcomes and did not go through systematic and objective evaluation and improvement.
The leadership of the district has grown increasingly wary of any feedback that does not support the ‘party line.’ Many good teachers have left the district, many more have expressed concern over voicing any opposition.
Many parents and students that have concerns have felt excluded and discounted. Concerns have been met with a response along the line of ‘we’ve got a curriculum in place for that’ or a response that dismisses their concerns as unfounded.
When I left the district, there was no ‘exit interview,’ no probing to determine what were the causes. In talking with other folks who have left, my experience is not unique. One would think that the district would want to learn from all sources what is going on, both good and bad, that lead to the overall sense of engagement and inclusion in the culture of the district. The district ought to routinely analyze outcomes of its policies and practices. Apparently, that is not the norm.
This stance of discounting concerns has led to a growing distrust of leadership and left the district vulnerable to the sort divisive efforts that were used in the run-up to the referendum vote. The fringe groups and harbingers of doom and gloom were able to drive a wedge into our discourse and to persuade enough voters to vote “no.” Unfortunately, the “no” vote leaves our district in a very bad place.
The only way I know to counter this is for district leadership to change course. They need to be absolutely transparent about the initiatives they are fostering; what are the intended outcomes, how will these initiatives be evaluated and improved, what resources will be diverted and what will be lost in the process.
The leadership of Eastern Carver County Schools needs to rebuild the trust of our community, especially those that feel disenfranchised. They should start by truly listening to folks’ concerns.
I offer this perspective in the hope for a positive future in District 112.