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Frazee school board tries to mend fences

The old needs to realize they are now new. That's the idea the Frazee-Vergas School Board has learned about itself after a board development survey results were reviewed.

Katie Klanderud, director of school board development for the Minnesota School Board Association, came before the school board Monday morning to discuss the results of a development survey and how the board plans to improve upon its shortcomings.

During the discussion, veteran board members were reminded that Steve Jepson and Keith Janu are new to the board, but it shouldn't be looked upon that way necessarily. Instead, they are not just the new members, but the board as a whole is now new.

"If I would have thought that way, it would have helped me," board member Dwight Cook said.

Mentorship of those new board members was also a topic of conversation and brought up multiple times throughout the Monday morning meeting. Board members have been assigned mentors, but that doesn't mean the relationships are being built.

Nancy Dashner said she volunteered to be Janu's mentor but has fallen short on her duty. Then again, she said, he hasn't approached her for advice either.

Klanderud clarified that mentorship doesn't mean talking to the new board member to say, "this is how I feel and this is how I'm going to vote," but rather it's about "this is the time of time year we usually do this and here's what we've done in the past," etc.

"Slow down or you're going to lose them," she said.

"This hit the nail on the head for me," Cook said.

He said he's never sat down and said this is a new board and that they needed to make sure they are on the same page. "We never clarified who we are as a new board."

Klanderud pointed out that whether someone has been on the board six years or six months, their votes are equal.

In the Frazee district though, Jepson said, "I still think it's 'we're the board, you're the new board member, get on board with us.'"

The MSBA survey was broken into several sections, including vision, structure, accountability, advocacy and conduct and ethics.

Several of the topics brought split votes, including vision and goals.

"I don't know what the priorities are because I honestly don't know the mission anymore," Superintendent Deron Stender said. With the old board, he added, he knew the mission, and it's just not that way anymore.

Board chair Dana Laine said that just because the board has changed, that doesn't mean the goals of the board have changed.

"I'm working on two sets of visions and goals," Stender said. "That's why I'm uneasy with this."

Which leads to the board's communication problem.

"Is it successful? Not always," Laine admitted.

When asked if the board strives for open communication between board members, four answered "yes" and three answered "no." Laine said she answered "yes" because she does "strive" for it, even though it doesn't always happen.

She said that it's difficult to communicate too much because board members are not allowed to discuss specifics behind closed doors.

One point that all seven agreed on was "board members avoid demeaning verbal or nonverbal communication." The agreement came in the form of "no" votes, though.

Klanderud said the good news is everyone agreed on a topic, but the bad news is it obviously needs work.

One of the potential problems came through when board members were asked whether "individual members refrain from undermining a decision made by the majority of the board."

One said "yes," five said "no" and one said "don't know."

Klanderud advised board members to study an issue, vote their opinion, and then let it go and move on if it doesn't result in what they wanted.

"If everyone doesn't support it," it's not going to work, she said.

Klanderud added that in her experience on a school board, there were times she voted in the minority but had to accept the vote and support the majority afterward.

If it's successful, great. If it's not successful, look at the matter again later, she said.

The board also spent about an hour and a half in closed session evaluating the superintendent -- a routine practice.