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Communication lacking at RISD

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Public’s interest in local schools deserves more consideration

The Roswell Independent School District board has met in closed session three times in recent months to discuss the evaluation of Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy. Those conversations are held outside the public eye. But we hope they’ve included the idea of encouraging the superintendent to begin more fully explaining to the public the rationale behind major RISD initiatives.

A school superintendent can make changes they see as necessary to improving the schools they’ve been hired to oversee. That’s management. But there’s also a responsibility, when those changes are sweeping ones, to give the schools’ stakeholders insight — even if only in broad terms — about why the changes are necessary. We don’t mean the reasons behind individual personnel moves. Just more generally: What’s the vision?

And by stakeholders, we’re referring to the general public — the thousands of people impacted directly and indirectly by changes that affect multiple campuses. These are, after all, “public” schools.

The district has been caught up for months in controversy over a major restructuring of administrative positions undertaken just before school let out for the summer. Former Roswell High School Principal Ruben Bolaños’ reassignment to another position was the most high profile and controversial of the moves, but overall 25 employees — mostly principals and assistant principals — were reshuffled between jobs and campuses.

It’s hard not to wonder if the public conversation since the changes took place could have been more productive if the reasoning behind the moves had been better communicated to Roswell in advance.

On another note involving communication, given some of the feedback we’ve received at the paper, parents and guardians would have appreciated a more organized roll-out in general of late start-times — on Wednesdays — for middle and high school students, which began this past week.

Any number of government entities and nonprofits around Roswell have excellent public relations apparatuses in place to keep the public and media up to speed on changes related to their operations. In 2019, there’s no reason for a school district the size of RISD not to have something as efficient and organized in place.

None of this is meant to suggest that better communication could address every concern that’s been raised, especially related to the restructuring of administrative positions. Explaining yourself doesn’t mean people will like or agree with what’s said. But better communication can help produce an environment in which issues, even disagreements, can potentially be worked out. At the very least, better understood.

On the other hand, a lack of information tends to create a vacuum. Just about any form of speculation can fill it.

We’d be remiss in recapping RISD’s busy summer if we didn’t mention the handling of the old turf from the Wool Bowl, which was replaced with new turf as part of a renovation.

Apparently, instead of being treated as a fixed asset (the property of taxpayers), the old turf was treated as “construction material.” It was alleged during the school board meeting Tuesday evening that the old turf was distributed to locations around the city — including to McIlroy’s house. The situation is an embarrassment to the district.

As members of the school board suggested Tuesday, we’d encourage the superintendent and others involved in handling district assets to familiarize themselves with acceptable practices for disposing of them.

There should be a manual somewhere. Reading is also a form of communication.