Thanks for writing to share you perspective on this issue. If you will indulge me, I feel the need to back up and explain not only this communication, but also other emails that I have previously sent to you.My response:
I believe that true communication always occurs within a context. That context is based on the relationship of those communicating with each other. Although society has evolved to the point that many people are comfortable having "electronic only" relationships, this does not work for me. I am unable to ascertain as much from email dialog as I can from in-person communication. For this reason I have repeatedly entreated you to pick up the phone or schedule an appointment with me and/or other administrators in the District.
Given your propensity to take your question-and-answer email dialog and cut and paste content to your web site, your emails come across as accusatory, interrogatory, and intended to prove your point. I am going to assume that you will take affront to the previous sentence. I am also going to presume that in a face-to-face dialog with you, this conversation would feel very different for both of us. In fact, I would surmise that having this type of face-to-face dialog would influence the interpretation that both I and members of my administrative team may have regarding future email inquiries from you. However, absent the face-to-face dialog that I continue to advocate for, these assumptions can not be fully ascertained.
Given the above, neither I nor my administrative team are trying to make you jump through hoops. I am concerned about your perceptions about Hoover ES and would like to discuss these so that the administrative can better understand how and where to address these issues. We are merely asking you to engage us in a true dialog about these issues in person. If/when you are willing to do so, we will make ourselves available.
Thanks for the quick reply. I have certainly been critical of some district policies – that’s the whole point of sending these emails. But if the district sees all criticism as “accusatory, interrogatory, and intended to prove a point,” it’s created an awfully convenient recipe for never publicly responding to any challenging questions or criticism.I’m sure I will break down and arrange a meeting. But I sure would like to know what a guy has to do to get a public school official to give an on-the-record answer to a question about the district’s policies.
Rather than fuss over whether the criticism was posed with just the right degree of deference and eggshell-walking, why not just rise above it and provide a public answer? In the amount of time it must have taken for you to write your last email, you could have gone a long way toward explaining why the district has pursued these policies on lunch, behavior, and discipline. Instead, all the energy goes into explaining why you can’t just answer the questions. (I have to admit: I have no idea what you mean by discussing issues “in context,” or why that can’t occur in writing.)
No one likes being on the receiving end of criticism, but it is very hard for the public to evaluate school policies if the district refuses to publicly state reasons for them. I don’t understand how that can possibly be good for the schools, or the children who attend them. It’s hard to see how the district is any better off, for example, for having stonewalled Ed Stone’s questions for years. All it did was drag out the process of getting legitimate concerns addressed, cause transparency to become an issue in the school board elections, and leave the district with a bill for Stone’s attorneys’ fees. Now Iowa City is cited as one of the primary examples of why we need a stronger Open Records law. There must be more productive ways of engaging with criticism.
It’s not as if I’m the only person raising concerns about the atmosphere in elementary school lunchrooms. Lots of people have, in the Synesi audit, the lunch petition, in comments on my blog, and elsewhere. Surely they’re not all so accusatory that they don’t deserve an on-the-record response. (For what it’s worth, your own assistant superintendent thanked me in our last exchange for my “polite emails” and “civil interaction.”)
I should point out: when I ask who made a given decision, it’s not out of a desire to personalize these issues or seek any kind of consequences. It’s because I want to know why the decisions were made, and don’t even know whom to ask. The buck seems to stop nowhere.
In any event, I’m willing to do whatever I need to do to get the district to give a public, on-the-record response to these concerns. I’m worried that the meeting you’re describing wouldn’t lead to that. There’s no point in doing it if it’s just going to be a lot of non-committal talk that I’m not supposed to repeat publicly. Would you be open to recording the meeting?