Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

School Board Leaders Convene ; Leaders: 'We Should Operate ... like a Fist'

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

School Board Leaders Convene ; Leaders: 'We Should Operate ... like a Fist'

Article excerpt

During the summer of 2015, Jim Gartner thought it might be a good idea to start meeting with his fellow Shawnee County school board presidents on a regular basis.

"I called all of the presidents and said, 'What do you think?'" recalled Gartner, president of the Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437.

The superintendents of each of the five main school districts in Shawnee County had already been meeting monthly for several years. The board presidents agreed that getting together -- beginning in September -- to discuss policies and procedures in addition to legislative issues impacting their districts would be beneficial.

"We wanted to understand things that would help us in our own districts," Gartner said. "It was very worthwhile. I think the other presidents thought so, too."

"We found we had more in common than how we were different," said Patrick Woods, USD 501 board president. "It helped us develop a much more global view of just not our own district alone."

The random drug testing policy implemented at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year for Seaman High School and Middle School students is one example of a policy the board presidents discussed, Gartner said, adding that "a lot of questions" were asked of James Adams, president of the Seaman USD 345 board.

Adams describes the monthly meetings as "extremely valuable."

"We don't talk about anything really private or personal, things we're not supposed to talk about," he said. "But it's just nice to be with your peers that bear the same responsibility that you do and talk about problems that are happening in your district. We've had some great dialogue, some cross collaboration of ideas that some districts are doing that maybe we want to do."

Having the chance to discuss how school finance and other education legislation have impacted each of their districts has been another outgrowth of the monthly meetings. Last fall, the five board presidents started drafting a joint position paper they presented to the members of the Shawnee County legislative delegation in December.

The document served as a unified voice for the county's school districts, urging lawmakers to keep school funding adequate, equitable and to put more money into early childhood education and fund all-day kindergarten. …

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