School board discuss future format of meetings

Winters JUSD school board members discuss the future of how school board meetings are conducted.
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Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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Past interruptions by meeting attendees sparked a discussion among Trustees and Winters Joint Unified School District staff members at the Thursday, Aug. 6 school board meeting.

President Rudolph Muldong and Trustee Rob Warren expressed being able to meet in person improves the quality of the meeting. Muldong also noted it helps to relay unspoken communication through body language and expressions, which are hidden through virtual meetings and may cause misunderstandings when unable to observe.

Warren said he would like to see the district’s technology team figure out a way to allow the community to observe meetings, but not have the ability to interrupt a meeting in progress.

“If we can’t control the meeting then I don’t want to do Zoom meetings anymore,” Warren said. “People get really comfortable sitting at home, and we get people making comments like they did.”

Trustees Carrie Green and Stephanie Chávez voiced concerns about not allowing the public to participate live. They also both noted that it was important to include the community, and that the number of people observing school board meetings had increased since beginning a virtual attendance option.

“I love that our parents are being involved, being informed. That’s all we’ve ever wanted. We need to figure that out,” Green said regarding how to continue to involve the community, yet prevent interruptions from occurring.

Nicole Reyherme, Winters JUSD Director of Innovation and Technology, presented potential options going forward:

Option 1: Current format of a Zoom meeting, with everyone muted. Trustees, presenters, and public input speakers who contact in ahead of time would be given the role of co-hosts so they could un-mute themselves. The chat function would remain turned off.

Option 2: Utilize the Zoom webinar feature. Which would allow anyone to watch the meeting, but they would not appear as participants on screen. The only people featured on screen would be the hosts and assigned panelists (Trustees, presenters, and public speakers who contact in ahead of time. There is no chat function.

Reyherme suggested in the webinar model she could enable the Q&A option so that viewers could send questions in to panelists to view. The con with it is that only panelists could view the questions.

She said in both models, there is an ability to record the meeting.

Reyherme also suggested sending out best practices when attending the board meeting via Zoom so viewers would have a reminder of the districts’ expectations of etiquette when attending a meeting online.

Green shared concern that not everyone could attend a board meeting in person if they were in the high risk group, and said she appreciated the webinar option. She asked what other districts are doing for their board meetings.

Superintendent Diana Jiménez reported that other districts (both big and small) are hosting meetings through Zoom or WebEx, and some are also doing an additional Facebook Live stream.

Reyherme said Winters JUSD could include a Facebook Live stream, but that would require additional staff to help moderate the comments feed to look for questions and topics of interest.

Green shared concern about the ability for community members to ask questions that might come up during the meeting, as mention of public input would be limited to those who contacted the District before the meeting. 

Reyherme suggested trying out the webinar model at the next school board meeting. Warren noted they would have to go through the experience to refine the process.

In addition, Jiménez engaged Trustees in a discussion of potentially decreasing the number of school board meetings a month.

She said one concern shared was that the turn around time to work on an action item between meetings did not give enough time to get a quality result, as they’re already having to rush and turn in the action item only days after being assigned the task.

A concern in decreasing the number of meetings meant longer wait times on approving curriculums and other important actions, as well as longer meetings when trying to recognize individuals and groups in the school community. 

“My concern is during times where we get the introduction and then wait a month for it to come back. That potentially may force more special meetings. That would require a lot of prep to make sure everything is ready to go,” Muldong said.

Muldong suggested considering a modified version where some months had more meetings than others depending on when business items are traditionally due.

School board meetings are currently locked into the schedule that was approved in December 2019. In the meantime, Jiménez will look at other meeting schedule models from other districts and bring samples and a recommendation back in October 2020.

Any changes would affect the proposed 2021 School Board Meeting schedule in December 2020.

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