New Saugerties school district superintendent Kirk Reinhardt says he intends a greater focus on shared decision-making in the next two years. Casting a wider net and involving more people in educational processes will lead to a more harmonious relationship between the district and the community it serves, he believes.
The subject was discussed at a Tuesday, August 14 meeting of the school board. A recent meeting chaired by assistant superintendent Darlene Westinghouse had brought it up as part of the discussion of the district’s annual consolidated grant application.
“She must have had ten to 15 people in the room,” reported Reinhardt. “There were teachers in there, there were administrators in there, I saw a student in there. I saw somebody from the Parent-Teacher Association. The goal is that when we make decisions we make them through multiple lenses.”
The state Department of Education requires school districts to approve a shared decision-making plan. The plan is filed with the district’s county Boces before going to the state for final approval. The state recommends that administrators, member of the school board trustees, community members, parents, teachers, teaching assistants, support staff and students should be included in the process whenever possible.
Committees of the shared decision-making body cover subjects such as accountability, budgeting, communication, community involvement, extracurricular programming, health and safety, parent involvement, student performance, and in-school procedures. Committees may also help set the standards to evaluate student improvement in standardized testing, graduation rates, attendance, and physical, social and emotional growth.
The state also recommends a districtwide cooperative planning committee and also committees at the building level. A biennial review of the shared decision making process includes representatives of various stakeholders, including district-level administrators (Reinhardt), building administrators (SHS principal Thomas Averill), support staff (Karin Maines, a teaching assistant), parents (Carmelina DeWitt), teachers (Judith Hart), maintenance (Jason Wento) and an as-yet-to-be-named student.
Reinhardt said he would support expanding shared decision-making even without a state mandate. “We want more stakeholders involved,” he said. When he was principal at Kingston High, he added, it was always good to have his ear to the ground. “What do the students think about policies? What do the parents think?”
He favored broad representation. “Sometimes if you’re very fortunate, you can have community members that don’t have students in the building. And it’s sometimes good to have businesspeople involved in your decision-making. I was pleased to see such a large group in there last week, especially during the summer.”
Shared decision-making gives the school district a better chance of ensuring success for all its students, he argued.
“We want to get more ideas on the table and get to what’s best for the kids in the Saugerties Central School District,” Reinhardt said. “Every community is s lightly different, and every community has slightly different needs. I find that very exciting, to sit with a group of people, especially non-educators, to get their input. And sometimes it’s good for people who aren’t involved in the schools to see what constraints we’re under as well.”
The process doesn’t assure everyone what they want, he said, but it may help everyone understand one another and the educational process better.
“It’s good for everybody to know what’s going on,” he said. “Everyone looks at things differently. It doesn’t always mean you’ll get to do things their way, but it’s great to have those conversations. Sometimes you need to see outside the box.”