Rebirth for the Federal Way School Board? Members vow more public engagement in 2011

Tony Moore, president of the Federal Way School Board, was also a candidate for District 30 State Senate in 2010. - Courtesy photo
Tony Moore, president of the Federal Way School Board, was also a candidate for District 30 State Senate in 2010.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Do you know who represents your neighborhood on the Federal Way Board of Education?

Dave Scott does not. He has a daughter at Illahee Middle School and lives so close to Enterprise Elementary School that he can hear kids laughing on the playground. He gets most of his school-related information directly from Illahee, he said.

He went to some school board meetings a few years ago at the urging of former board member Charles Hoff over a reduction in the number of school librarians. Nowadays, he’s pretty satisfied with the schools.

“I love the enthusiasm,” he said, standing in the garage of his home along Southwest 352nd Street.

But he would like to know his representative on the school board. If he were invited to a school board event, for instance, he might go.

Scott might be in luck. The school board has kicked off 2011 by planning to reach a wider audience of constituents. The board held a lengthy discussion at its Jan. 4 “work/study” meeting about the logistics of such an endeavor. No members of the public were at the meeting to hear the discussion.

“Our hope is to get out there in an unfiltered way,” said President Tony Moore, joking that board members should get out among the public even when it’s not an election year (Moore, plus members Suzanne Smith and Amye Bronson-Doherty are up for re-election this year).

“Somewhere along the line, the board has bunkered itself down in the ivory palace and they’re not getting out doing the things they’re supposed to. We’re going to get back to that again,” Moore said.

So what would the board’s effort look like? And why is it that board members have not been out and about more in the past?

Moore said that he’s beginning to work on a schedule for the board’s public outreach in the coming year. When asked where, exactly, board members could go to reach the public, he ticked off places like churches, service organization meetings and senior centers. One problem, he says, is that traditional board events tend to be attended by roughly the same group of people, either education boosters or detractors.

Indeed, with the exception of parents and students who attend to get some kind of recognition, regular biweekly school board meetings don’t draw a lot of spectators. Bronson-Doherty pointed out that regular meetings are televised; also, the board gets out to events like district award ceremonies, but the renewed effort discussed on Jan. 4 relates back to Policy Governance, the board’s new bureaucratic system.

“There’s an expectation of more coordination of efforts,” she said. “An attempt to be more cohesive in reaching a wider audience.”

Is this a rebirth of the Federal Way School Board?

“I think it is,” Moore said. “We’re going to have to be really creative.”

Moore said he would finish drafting the board’s outreach schedule soon and make it public. In the meantime, the board is holding a retreat from 8 a.m. to noon Jan. 29. The retreat is open to the public, though the location is yet unknown. Board members will also likely appear at an upcoming series of forums on education topics to be hosted by Superintendent Robert Neu.

Scott is likely not in the minority among Federal Way residents — both those with kids in school, and homeowners who pay school taxes — who don’t know their school board members. The entire school district is broken into five geographic chunks with a board member assigned to each section, just like congressional districts and most elected offices in a representative democracy.

Katherine Sprague, mother to a son who attends Federal Way High School, was standing outside her neighbor’s house across the street from Lake Grove Elementary on a recent day. She, too, does not know her school board member, but would like to. If invited to a board event, she would go, and she would be especially interested in asking about tutoring programs for her son, if any exist.

Her neighbor, who would not give his name, but claimed to own a home at 30714 4th Ave. SW, has no kids and does not know any school board members — but he has ideas for the schools: he was insistent on getting a laptop into the hands of every student.

“But I think they’re doing a great job. Superfabulicious,” he contrived. “I would check (a board event) out if they really want me there.”

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