In October 2017, students at IHS were shocked to hear rumors that PE classes would be included in the calculation of GPAs. Students were told that the Board of Education (BoE), the elected body of community members that establishes district policies, would vote on a measure that would collectively determine the inclusion of PE in GPA, a subject never before mentioned as being added to GPA. In contrast, the effort to add Fine Arts classes to GPA had been ongoing for months before the BoE’s vote, and had been initiated by the student body. The prospect of including a non-academic and often subjectively graded course such as PE was concerning to several students at IHS—it came as a relief to them that PE classes ultimately would not count towards GPA. Nonetheless, this event brought to light the alarming lack of communication between the student body and the BoE, and has highlighted the need for increased transparency about the decisions of the Board.
Currently, the BoE has several methods of keeping the public in touch with their decisions. Monthly discussion meetings are open to the public, and all weekly meetings are broadcast on Spectrum’s public-access channel 16. Additionally, all video footage is archived on YouTube in full-length segments. These methods are supplemented by the BoE’s use of Boarddocs, an online system in which all district policies and meeting outlines are defined.
However, it is clear that these methods fall short of facilitating the necessary transparency between the public—in particular the IHS student body—and the BoE. While the policy of allowing students to attend meetings is admirable, the live broadcasts and YouTube videos of meetings are far too long to be considered good methods of public communication. While they do serve the purpose of keeping public records of the happenings at board meetings, it shouldn’t be the case that students have to watch an hour and a half of grainy footage with mostly irrelevant content to find out about a key decision regarding their academic futures.
Unfortunately, the content posted on Boarddocs also follows this trend. Not only does the district website not have direct links to the most recent meeting agendas, meeting notes are also extremely minimal, highlighting the plan to run the meeting but not including notable comments or any presentation content. Boarddocs ultimately serves only as a meeting organization solution for the Board, and its functionality must be increased. For instance, the district had already made the final decisions about the inclusion of PE and Fine Arts in GPA, and a board member resolved the matter by simply answering the questions of the IHS Representatives to the Board. Nowhere on Boarddocs is there any place for informally mentioned content like the comment that answered this question. Until a school-wide email was sent in the final week of the first quarter, students would have had no way of finding out about the final decision unless they watched or attended the meeting.
The simplest way to increase communication between the BoE and the IHS student body would be to find new methods of communication. Many other district officials are active on Twitter, and the BoE could consider using Twitter as a platform to highlight meaningful decisions made by the board and to remind followers about upcoming public sessions. The Board could also communicate with students effectively through utilizing Chromebooks and their Internet functionalities. Google Forms is one tool that school administrators and clubs have effectively used in the past. A survey conducted by The Tattler about students’ experiences with dress code enforcement received over 400 replies; similarly, the BoE could utilize this platform to gain valuable student input in making key decisions. In addition, the BoE could utilize email to better communicate about important decisions with the student body. The Board’s decision about the inclusion of fine arts in GPA was announced to students through a mass email, and this method of communication was well-received by students and parents. The Board could continue this practice, though they would need to ensure that they only send very important information.
The Board also needs to increase the role of student representatives if they want to be better connected with high schoolers. Currently, the representatives are only allotted a fixed amount of time, and they are expected to update the Board with updates from clubs, sports, and other student government bodies. “The board meetings are closed off and formal,” said Asha Duhan ’19, a Representative to the Board. “As a result, it’s hard to voice student opinion and it’s hard to understand. The reps don’t play as much of a role as they should.” The role of representatives should be extended to active participation in discussions pertaining to district policies that affect students, and if changes are made, then the relationship between the Board and the IHS student body can be redefined. “The job of the Representatives to the Board is to connect the student body to the BoE, though that information can be cursory since they’re not able to present for large amounts of time,” said former Representative to the Board Max Fink ’17. “Increasing the time that they’re allowed to speak in would make a positive difference.” The BoE Representatives’ news column in The Tattler is a much-needed step in the right direction, allowing students to get access to information about key aspects of board meetings, but they could do much more if their role were expanded.
Recent decisions made by the BoE, including the decision to include Fine Arts in GPA, indicate that they are willing to take on controversial and important issues that pertain to the student body. However, students are disconnected from the decisions of the Board, and the BoE would benefit greatly from considering other platforms that allow for more condensed, easily accessible information than the barebones Boarddocs system currently in use.