Manteca Unified School District’s much ballyhooed Going Digital – breathlessly proclaimed by the district’s upper echelon management as bringing classrooms into the 21st century – starts next week.
The rollout of electronic devices beyond one or two classroom computers is inevitable. Although there are serious questions about whether Manteca Unified is drilling too low in grade levels with tablets or hasn’t given technology in the classroom much thought beyond distributing shiny tech gadgets to simply replace existing tools, one thing is clear – the district is deliberately choosing to keep the general public and many parents in the Dark Ages, or at least the mid-20th century.
The Manteca Unified board does not live stream its meetings. They don’t even have video coverage that can be uploaded after the meeting so the public can keep tabs of board business and what the administration is up to.
Remember, this is a district that likes to brag about being transparent and cutting edge. In the year 2015 that means giving the public the widest possible access to district business, which is decided at board meetings.
Instead of being as open and transparent as technology that has been around for 20-plus years will allow, the district chooses to communicate with the general public using press releases and tofu-filled politically correct responses to legitimate concerns with how the top management and board are conducting the public’s business and spending their money.
The predictable response by district brass is that people are free to come to their conveniently scheduled meetings. Then, when asked about meeting attendance, trustees and administrators will note that it is tough in today’s world for parents who commute and are juggling kids’ activities to make it to public meetings.
You can’t have it both ways.
For years, Manteca’s elected city leaders – and to a lesser degree their counterparts in Lathrop and Ripon – would openly dismiss people who were upset about council decisions saying they could have attended meetings to voice their concern or at least see firsthand what was happening.
In the late 1980s, Manteca addressed part of the concern with live cable coverage that continues today. But more importantly, Manteca as well as Lathrop and Ripon now either live stream meetings and/or upload video immediately after the meetings are concluded.
It gives citizens the ability to search out things that concern them specifically and to research what steps the city took and the rationale behind their decisions. In other words, it makes elected officials as well as top bureaucrats in the three cities more responsive to the people.
Just think how different the pre-rollout of the $30 million Going Digital project would have been had the district chose not just to make school board meetings almost universally accessible by the Internet but took the same approach to Q&A sessions when Microsoft and district officials met with parents. Canned videos are one thing. A video of an open exchange with concerned parents while conducting school business whether it is explaining how Going Digital works or addressing legitimate concerns is another.
Of course, that takes a bold and innovative approach to the district’s relationship with the people they serve to provide the opportunity for them to be better informed about the 21st century education system. Instead, the district has taken a course that clearly shows it is afraid of applying the same technology to dealing with the public that they are with rolling it out in the classroom.
In the lead up to the start of the school year, technology clearly wasn’t on the front burner. If it were students would have been able to download homeroom assignments for elementary schools instead of crowding around paper postings at campuses while shooting images with their smartphones for themselves and to share with friends.
It is one example to underscore the fact that just because a district spends $30 million in technology doesn’t mean they have bought into being tech savvy.
Perhaps there is a game plan to do just that. If there is, the district has been careful to make sure it doesn’t get wide circulation by making it available electronically via the Internet.
You can Tweet or post on Facebook all that you want.
For the most part that is background noise.
The real trick is how you use technology to be as transparent as legally possible.
The City of Manteca’s website, as an example, posts all city ordinances and makes it easy to search them. The city also posts all agenda backup material – as does the district – but also takes the additional step of making sure all reports referencing City Council decisions regarding projects are all posted as well.
The city also posts a weekly report to its citizens on municipal activities from the police and fire departments to public works, parks and recreation, and the city manager’s office. It’s not social chatting about trips they take and personal observations. It’s about what city staff is doing on behalf of citizens.
And if you have a concern or a problem, there is an easy-to-use outreach program that gives you confirmation that someone saw your message within 72 hours and then a follow-up on how it is being resolved, addressed, or simply provide an answer.
That’s how elected leaders and a government agency engages the public in the 21st century.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.