By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education was not pleased with what its annual self evaluation received, with a gap between areas of concern regarding importance and current level of accomplishment.
Also of concern were calls received from constituents regarding rumors of how the board will vote in coming months on issues.
Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, said, "I had three calls on Thursday, upset because they'd heard the board was going to oust Aarona [VanWinkle, director of schools], and place Bruce Simmons as the interim."
David Bowman, 7th District representative, echoed those comments. "I've heard all kinds of things, and we've not even accepted resumes."
Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, said, "The community knows or thinks they know about a decision long before it happens. That's a problem."
Board members were most concerned with statements receiving low scores for current actions in "the board weights all decisions in terms of what is best for the students of the school system;" "the board and superintendent trust and respect one another;" "our board and superintendent agree on how complaints or concerns to board members should be handled;" "the superintendent is given direction by the board as a whole rather than by individual members;" and "our school board is respected by the community."
New board member Josh Stone, 4th District representative, said, "How do we improve on an attitude of mutual trust and respect? We all can disagree and still maintain an attitude of trust and respect."
While it was noted that it can take time to build respect and trust, Stone noted that board members were elected by their districts and that there had to be some respect for the member because of the trust and respect entrusted to them by the voters.
"A lot of times, it's not building the trust," he said. "It's that the respect has been lost along the way. If there are board members you don't have an attitude of mutual trust and respect for, that needs to be evaluated on how to improve, or you'll just continue to butt heads."
Schlafer said, "If the vote is 5 to 4, and you're on the side of the four, you need to get on board. That's not been done. Things continue to be brought up. We've got things settled, and yet they're never settled. That undercurrent hurts our effectiveness."
The board discussed how to build better teamwork, and how that would be vital as the board moved through the coming year and the search for a new director of schools. VanWinkle is set to retire at the end of the school year.
"We have one focus," said Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative. "That's children first. It's not what's best for Richard Janeway, District 2 or Homestead Elementary. It's what's best for the system as a whole."
VanWinkle thanked him for that statement. "Your vote affects every child in Cumberland County. You don't think about what's good for one school. You think what's best for all the children in Cumberland County."
While the board discussed its perception of its reputation in the community, VanWinkle pointed to a community assessment from two years earlier that did not indicate a high level of community dissatisfaction with the board. Other avenues to build trust and respect in the community included district meetings similar to those held in the first and second districts and regular visits to school activities, not just in each member's district, but the county.
Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, said, "In order to be able to earn respect form the community, from the people employed in our school system, it's going to take action. Are you willing to do that? People are watching. The people who support you are looking for good. Those who don't are looking to catch you. We've got to set forth an effort to do what's right and keep those foremost in mind."