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Photos don’t build community, trustees do

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POSTED January 24, 2013 8:22 p.m.

It was a reasonable concern.

Recently installed Manteca Unified School District trustees Sam Fant and Deborah Romero wanted to make sure that when they stopped by campuses that staff and students recognized them as district board members and not strangers.

Their suggestion, though, was a bit ineffective and depending upon your perspective, egotistical. They wanted photographs of all of the trustees to be displayed at all 31 high school and elementary campuses in the district.

This prompted former trustee Wendy King to ask the board, “Are you here for the students or to promote your own ego?”

At that point Fant took the bait.

King had basically dismissed him as the “least qualified” candidate for the Weston Ranch board seat in October by implying only those who were active in the schools had any business running for a trustee position.

Fant responded to King’s verbal taunt at Tuesday’s board meeting and the predictable exchange of words took place.

In the end, the trustees decided that a group photograph of the board should be displayed at high school offices only.

It kind of makes you wonder why the board even bothered to discuss the issue especially if the concern was staff and students were not familiar with the new board members — or existing ones for that matter.

First, the idea that every kid and staff member will be looking at framed photos of the board in a school office and therefore would be able to recognize said trustees when they were on campus is a tad on the lame side.

What would make much more sense would be for Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer to issue board members ID cards they could wear on lariats just like the rest of the staff, including Messer himself.

Assuming that they check into the office like other visitors, having the lariat on when they are either escorted or making their way around campus on their own would provide verification that they are who they say they are and not some “stranger.”

Let’s focus on the word “stranger” for a second.

Board members, for the most part, are strangers to staff and students. Part of it is that there are more than 25,000 students and staff. It also has to do with their position as policy makers who act as a whole and who have hired a superintendent to run the district.

The framed photo in each school office can seem a little pretentious.

Instead of expending time, rhetoric and resources over photos, the real way to build “community” — to borrow a term from Fant — is to do something that breaks the mold.

If new trustees — or existing ones for that matter — want to find out what is going on in the schools they might arrange for impromptu gatherings at the end of the school day at various campuses.

They could invite staff — or students — to sit down with them and tell them firsthand what is going wrong and what is going right in our schools.

That certainly would be a novel approach at building community.

It certainly is more effective than simply dropping by for an escorted, or unescorted, visit. And it will make a much better impression than an 8-by-10 framed photograph gathering dust in a school office.

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. 

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