16.

There are many resources within BUSD that are either not well known or simply break down when they’re needed. This communication void often leaves families in the lurch, incurs parent frustration, or escalates to the superintendent for resolution. Ideally there could be a single point of focus, such as a district ombudsman with some authority, for people to go to for answers and receive follow-up on a timely basis. As a Board member, what actions would you take to improve how BUSD interacts with its community when individual problems arise?

Answers: 
Ty Alper

The premise of this question is right on. Communication from the District has improved in recent years, but it has long been a weakness. (See http://tyalper.org/2014/02/20/why-doesnt-busd-text-or-tweet/ for more thoughts on one aspect of the District’s communication.) As a parent, I know that our relatively small District can feel at times like an impenetrable bureaucracy – and it’s even worse for parents who don’t speak English and/or do not have experience advocating within this kind of system. As the question indicates, parents not only have a hard time figuring out the chain of command, but they are also often unaware of available resources. I like the idea of an ombudsperson or even an ombuds department (allowing for someone to be present at each campus), which many districts have. I would want to see the position become not just a bureaucrat who processes complaints, but rather a trained, skilled, multi-lingual mediator, or group of mediators, who can solve problems and resolve conflicts.

Josh Daniels

I have created a listserv of over 2,000 emails in my four years on the board and I use it to send regular updates on important District activities, meetings, and issues. I have also made it a point to respond to almost every single email or telephone call I receive. (My email is joshdaniels@berkeley.net and my phone number is 510-213-8683.) Many of these communications are from families in need of information and I am able to provide them the information myself or connect them with a district staff member who can. In other instances, the communications express concern regardless the quality of education services or programs. In response, I set up phone conversations, invite families to my offices hours (next office hours: Saturday, November 15 @ 1p at Take 5 Café), or suggest making public comment at a board meeting. Regardless of the specific focus on the communications, I always benefit from hearing from families because I gain insight and perspectives on the reality of life in the District that I would not get otherwise. If re-elected, I will continue to send out my emails and to be responsive to every communication I receive.

Norma J F Harrison

I’d still try to help us preach the alternatives at every turn. Until we can begin to school us to know we are permitted to think the other way, then to compose how else we’d live together, we achieve only repetition. I believe it’s called zombie – for having failed-died and constantly being resurrected although everyone knows it won’t work, again.

Karen Hemphill

I was an early and strong advocate of having family outreach workers at every elementary school and believe the BHS Parent Resource Center should be expanded and that middle school needs must also be addressed. I also support having a student/family ombudsman at the central district office and continue to champion continual improvement of both one way and two way communication with parents/families. For example, I would really like to have the PTA Council and other active parents weigh in on how the District can more effectively disseminate information to our community. A lot of information, especially around student learning, school facilities, and student enrollment and even discipline IS publicly available by having been presented at a School Board or community meeting but the District needs to do a better job in making it easy to access. I have talked to the Superintendent of having a separate part of the District’s website just for PowerPoint presentations given at the Board and other communities for quick access – especially by members of our community that didn’t attend the meeting but are interested in the issue and am open to other ideas of how to make District data/information more readily accessible.

Julie Sinai

As Board members, it is our responsibility to ensure we have policies and practices in place to make sure that the District administration is responsive in resolving problems and complaints. It is my opinion that it is always best for problems to be resolved at the site level, first with the individuals most closely tied to the issue, then, if necessary with a supervisor. If a problem rises to the District level, then I believe staff should respond in a timely fashion, be open to listening to all sides of the issue, and work to resolve problems in a fair manner. An individual always has the option of bringing his/her concern to the Board when they’ve exhausted attempts with the site and District administration. We need to make sure our complaint process works. As a current Board member, I am open and accessible by email or phone when problems arise. It is my practice to follow up within a day with staff on issues that are brought to my attention.

The District has implemented WE CARE principles: Willingness, Empathy, Consistency, Aptitude (knowledge), Responsiveness, and Effectiveness (quality) as our approach to customer service. All staff, including school site administrators from our elementary through high schools, should receive training to strengthen and improve communication. If elected, I will work with my colleagues on the Board and the Superintendent to develop an accountability process with metrics to measure the time it takes to respond and resolve problems, and ask staff to report the results periodically to the Board.