A logical assumption would be that an elected board that needs to hire an outside survey to find out whether its constituents approve of it has lost touch with those constituents, which is a pretty good hint that those constituents do not approve.
That's the way it played out for the East Allen County Schools board, for which former Superintendent Daryl Yost did a survey of about 900 participants, the majority of whom were district employees but also included parents and taxpayers.
If board members expected to hear only nice things about themselves, they were surely disappointed. The survey revealed five perceptions about the board so bad that they need to be addressed soon. Chief among them is that the board misunderstands of its role as a governing body and gets involved in decisions it should leave to the management team.
Yost also said central-office administrators were perceived as “negatively confrontational” and that the district doesn't provide adequate time for collaboration or support for teachers to meet administration and state demands. Board members were said to represent only their own district's interests rather than the district as a whole. And people apparently do not feel their ideas and opinions are particularly welcomed by the board.
Interestingly, when it comes to actual actions taken rather than impressions of board behavior, the reactions tended to be more positive. People thought the schools were in good shape, that teachers were doing a good job, and the redesign of the system was well-thought out and working well.
But those who feel left out of the system, excluded by a board that disdains them, will do more than continue to support current policies. They might very well oppose future ones, maybe at crucial junctures. People are especially irritated when local boards and officials seem aloof and insular – it's almost expected from higher officials.
Some specific actions can come from surveys such as these – the suggestions already made, for example, to change the way board members are elected and to put board members through more training. But the main benefit will be the board's use of it to work hard at improving the board's relationship with all the communities of interest it serves. Congratulations to district officials for having the courage to take a look at themselves.
“We failed this one,” lamented board member Stephen Terry. “Perception is reality in East Allen County.” It is everywhere, sir – always has been, always will be.