RED WING -- COVID-19 tension, if not the actual virus, has exposed divisions on the Red Wing School Board that will -- and already are -- hindering the Red Wing Public School District’s performance.

Having completed a self-evaluation earlier this spring, the seven board members finally found time to meet with Minnesota School Board Association facilitator Gail Gilman on Monday, July 27. The meeting came three days before Gov. Tim Walz will announce how and when classes will resume this fall and release his pandemic guidelines for districts across Minnesota.

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Gilman’s recommendations included:

  • Addressing the lack of trust. Survey results and then discussion clearly showed distrust between board members themselves and between some board members and administration;

  • Preparing for 2021. At least three new members will join the board after the 2020 election. Orientation and mentorships will be key in getting these people up to speed during a critical time, she said.

  • Reviewing district policies and then following them.

  • Managing meetings better. Three board meetings a month often last three or four hours. Case en pointe: The scheduled two-hour session went over by 40 minutes with Gilman continually pushing through the agenda.

  • Moving forward with key ethnicity, cultural and racial discussions.

  • Gathering real community input. For example, the district does not have the mandated parental advisory group for the World’s Best Workforce initiative. That must be addressed.

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Longtime Board members Heidi Jones and Mike Christensen, who are stepping down with Janie Farrar, expressed dismay that board already hasn't improved since 2017, when members last took a self-evaluation.

Board Vice Chair Arlen Diercks put the evaluation results in the context of a difficult spring:

“I’m wondering if we have some board members who felt they should have had more involved in the decisions for distancing learning that had to be done in such a quick time,” he said. “There’s been some question in regards to hiring procedures -- if we are following the policies -- and also at that time we were going through a situation and I think there were some questions whether some evaluations of our employees were being conducted in the way they should be.”

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Gilman took board members through their anonymous responses to questions in five areas. Standard No. 1 -- conduct and ethics -- took the most time and generated the most pointed discussion.

“Working as a team to build that trust and respect back up is paramount,” she said.

The other areas were vision, structure, accountability and advocacy/communications.

Each board member made a closing statement. As the last board member to speak, Holly Tauer said the rules and policies seem to apply to some people and not to others. Personal relationships rather than procedures dominate, which prompted Gilman to note that policies keep districts out of trouble.

“We really need to stick to our responsibilities,” Tauer said. “Do board members know our policies? ... They are not negotiable … if we stick to them I think we’re going to do a lot better.”

Gilman said her future written report will focus on the deficient areas brought forth through the evaluation and discussion.

“The work was not easy before and is even more challenging now,” Gilman said, before leaving the board with the question that should be behind every decision: “What’s best for the kids?”