The new superintendent of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 school system, Paul Goren, has challenged his board to do its work with fewer meetings.

After discussing the matter for 22 minutes at its regular monthly meeting this week, some members decided that perhaps the board should wait a year or so to make a decision.

Goren’s position was that his senior administrators often work well into the evening on matters of high priority and that the last thing they need is to attend another meeting of the board, including preparation time.

“I want to pace our efforts so that we can be a high performing organization focused on operations, policy development, and transparent feedback from the board and the public,” he wrote in an accompanying memo.

“Fewer meetings with focused agendas will accomplish this as we move forward,” he added.

Between working meetings, regular meetings, and policy and finance committee meetings, the board has scheduled 34 meetings in the next year. Goren thinks they could do a better job by reducing that number to 24.

His suggestion met with some skepticism from some board members. Claudia Garrison expressed the fear that fewer meetings might result in longer meetings, thereby increasing the fatigue factor. In past years, some board meetings have ended after midnight.

Katie Bailey thought that any changes ought to be focused on the topics for discussion, while setting aside time to deal with unanticipated problems.

Except for citizen comments, which are usually restricted to one hour, board agendas typically do not specify a limit, or even an estimate, of the amount of time allotted for discussion of particular topics.

The Evanston Township High School board agenda, by contrast, does specify such an estimate, and its president, Gretchen Livingston, makes frequent references to how close to the schedule they are running.

A typical month at District 65 will include a regular board meeting, a “working” board meeting devoted to discussion of issues that do not require an immediate decision, a finance committee meeting, and a policy committee meeting. Fewer meetings are held during the summer and during extended school holiday breaks.

In addition to these meetings, the board this year will be meeting frequently in developing a three-year strategic plan, and a couple of times a year it participates in a joint meeting with the ETHS District 202 Board.

Goren’s proposed calendar would combine working board meetings with the finance and policy meetings and even schedule some of these for every other month rather than monthly.

He noted further that a newly revamped website for the district would “post information about all district activities and initiatives to remain transparent to the citizens of Evanston and Skokie.”

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Fewer meetings = Renewed focus on actual roles

    School boards basically have two jobs: make policy and manage money. Fewer meetings would almost certainly encourage the D65 Board to stick to exercising these roles. Too often, the Board extends its reach to any and all issues and  matters that are best managed by administrators and other education professionals.

  2. One topic, one page, 30 minutes

    Each board member and anyone who wants to speak, should be required to submit a written document about their topic before [at least one day] the meeting.  Also, require that all board members read the documents before the meeting so they can make intelligent comments about the issues and thus eliminate "educating" each other [and public present] during the meeting.

    Also these documents should be placed on and remain on a web site before the meeting.

    It might not work for the school board, but effective companies have a motto: one topic, one page, 30 minutes for a meeting.  Also no chairs and tables helps—stand or stand at a podium.  The one page is to summarize the purpose of the meeting; detailed/extensive documents for discussion may be needed for solid knowledge.

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