Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 2
Change is comingSanta Maria's high school district asks decision-making committees to move away from status quo
BY CAMILLIA LANHAM
There comes a point when change becomes a necessity, and now is that time for three of Santa Maria Joint Union High School District’s schools looking into tweaking policy decision-making.
It’s not so much the school policies themselves that need an update; it’s the actual decision-making process. The district’s Board of Education unanimously sent that message to Santa Maria, Pioneer Valley, and Ernest Righetti high schools’ Shared Decision Making committees at its March 20 meeting.
The committees aim to serve as decision-making bodies for school policies—think tardy policies, rules surrounding suspensions, dress codes, and the like.
Board president Carol Karamitsos said the laws governing the committees are outdated and should be transformed to make sure parents and students have more of a say in the decisions.
“[Shared Decision Making] was created 20 years ago and we want to make sure it fits with the bounds of 2013,” Karamitsos said. “I just want to focus on our process being a living, breathing process.”
The moves comes at the end of a three-month long public discussion among the district, parents, and the faculty association. That discussion started after a TV news interview in January, in which a parent who served as one of two parent-members on the Santa Maria High School Shared Decision Making committee said he felt the parents’ votes had no impact on decisions made by the committee.
Parents and students asked for change at the Feb. 13 board meeting. The list of demands was short: a more equal say for parents on the committee, student representation, and for meetings to take place in the afternoon and evening rather than during the school day.
Shared Decision Making committees have been in place at the high schools since 1994, teacher and longtime faculty association member Carol Moir explained at the March 20 meeting. In the early 1990s, teachers were unhappy with the way the district was governed and wanted to have more of a say in the policies they had to enforce.
Frustrations took the form of a month-long teachers’ strike in 1992. Moir told board members there was a sense of mistrust between teachers and the district.
To re-instill that trust—after a superintendent changeover and switching out two of the district’s board members—Shared Decision Making committees were created for each high school, as well as one for the district. The committees are 50 percent faculty, and the remaining half is divided between administrative staff and one or two parents, but no students. Moir said the committee makeup means no group holds a majority.
“The decisions have to be made collaboratively, because of the 50 percent,” Moir told the board.
While the faculty association stressed to board members that the committees were collaborative enough, Santa Maria High School parents and students once again spoke out for change.
“There is no platform where we can voice our opinions on school policies,” freshman Carla Mendoza told the board. “We need representation to be equal so we know that no one voice is more important than another.”
Medonza’s view is echoed in the bylaws written for the committees. Superintendent Mark Richardson told the Sun that the bylaws make it clear that parents and students need to be involved in a meaningful way, which isn’t the case now.
Richardson said that even if there are one or two parents involved on the committees now, they don’t have enough of a vote to give their opinions an impact.
“It’s a good balance that creates dialogue,” Richardson said. “The things that are decided in the [Shared Decision Making] are the things that affect the students the most.”
In order to bring the bylaws up to date, the board asked the Shared Decision Making committee at each school to facilitate changes by June. They want the committees to rearrange their meeting times so parents and students can more easily attend, and to reorganize the makeup of their members so parents and students have an equal say to faculty and administrators.
The board’s long, hard look at the bylaws also pushed legal issues to the top of the conversation, and those are things the committees were asked to take into consideration as well. Legal issues include verbiage defining the committee’s authority too broadly, at times overstepping the authority of the school principal. Committees were asked to make the wording more specific, and to make sure all the school sites are governed by the same set of bylaws.
Once the committees have revamped their rules, the district board will need to approve the changes, which is a legal requirement that’s not always been followed over the past 20 years, Richardson said.
“Ultimately, the board, they’re held responsible for that stuff because they have to approve it,” Richardson said. “We want to make sure that legally we’re squared away.”
Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at firstname.lastname@example.org.