EDITORIAL:Â CREDIT TO MENNO PATRONS, SCHOOL LEADERS
The conversations that took place Monday night between concerned patrons of the Menno School District and Superintendent Tom Rice were a textbook example of what healthy dialogue looks like, and what positive public discourse can lead to.
Meeting in regular session inside the old city/school auditorium March 14, Rice and the school board heard from a number of parents about two concerns: Moving baccalaureate from the main school gymnasium into the very space they were meeting on Monday, and fifth graders being added to the 6-8 middle school structure.
Those speaking out followed protocol, asking to be placed on the agenda as part of “public input,” and they were given their opportunity to speak formally, and also in a broader discussion that took place later.
And to their credit, those expressing concern were calm, cool and collected in their comments.
“Please know that we are here to present our concerns with respect for each of you as board members and for our administration,” said Jennifer Vaith, who formally addressed the baccalaureate issue. “We are not here to point blame or condemn.”
That appeared to be the case in the discussions that followed, even though parents speaking out were clear in their opposition to the administrative decisions.
While there were general questions about the whys and why nots, in both discussions surrounding baccalaureate and the middle school restructuring, the biggest concerns appeared to be the lack of communication.
Why weren’t parents notified right away that baccalaureate was being moved, and why weren’t they notified right away that fifth graders were being added to the middle school?
It’s a fair question.
And to the credit of Tom Rice, not only did he listen, he also gave ample opportunity for anybody who wanted to say something to do so. Particularly in the conversation about the fifth graders, Rice stood in front of the group of parents assembled, looked them in the eye, responded to questions and took the criticism.
He also admitted that he should have been more transparent right away and vowed to work with parents to address some of their concerns about what adding fifth graders to the 6-8 structure would mean for their children.
“We’re moving forward,” he said, “but we can make some tweaks.”
That is indicative of the superintendent’s leadership, humility and integrity.
Big media likes to expose the ugly nature of these kind of meetings, when loud voices and stubborn reactions do far more harm than good.
What happened in Menno last night was both a chance for the public to have their voice heard, but also — perhaps — a little more understanding by all involved.
It’s amazing what can happen when people talk to each other in a respectful way, but also listen. The Menno folks gave us all a good reminder of that Monday night.
Jeremy Waltner | Editor & Publisher