Rancho Santa Fe School District forum urges parents to get involved to make school even better
Rancho Santa Fe School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney, Board Vice President Tyler Seltzer and board member Todd Buchner discussed ways that they advocate for the district’s children at a third parent forum held on Nov. 10. The representatives also responded to some criticisms about the openness of the district’s processes.
“We all want the premier school in the county and I think we have that,” Buchner said. “We’re open as we can be to make this place better as needs evolve.”
“We’re always sitting down talking about how to make it better,” Delaney said. “We never stop.”
The parent forum is a committee to support parent engagement and positive parent-school collaboration around student success. This is different from the RSF Education Foundation, whose goal is to provide a grant to the district through fundraising and to provide volunteers for school community events.
Topics for the forums are initiated by parents for education and open forum discussion. September’s forum discussed behavior and discipline and October’s dealt with homework, tutoring and study skills.
Parent Sarah Neal said the district culture seems to be that if parents have an idea, they go directly to the board members they know. Neal said the forum is a way to open things up so those ideas aren’t isolated. One of the goals of the November forum was to let parents know how they can formally and informally communicate with the district.
“I’m very interested in the school doing an annual survey,” Neal said, noting that it would be a useful tool in the district’s decision-making process. “It could help guide what needs to be paid attention to overall and breeding trust in the process.”
One of the key ways parents can get involved is by attending a school board meeting. The board meets monthly and the meetings are often very lightly attended. From January to June, Delaney works with staff on the school budget and there is an ongoing dialogue at meetings, as the board discusses “how to get the best education for the tax dollars spent,” Seltzer said.
Buchner said he has grown very comfortable because of Delaney’s command of the numbers. He said that she has her finger on the pulse of the community and knows what parents are looking for.
The public is allowed to address the board for three minutes during public comment at the beginning of the meeting. Seltzer said the board adheres to three minutes as a rule of general best practices, to effectively manage the meetings so the board can conduct its business.
Seltzer noted that the board members’ backgrounds are quite varied and while they are able to come to agreement on issues, their decisions and insights often come from very different places.
“I can’t think of five more different people and differences of opinions,” Seltzer said. “I’ve enjoyed having such different perceptions from such a small and active board.”
Parent Diana Knickrehm expressed a concern that the district’s process has a “gaping hole” in the discussion about programs, such as how robotics went from a $16,000 expenditure to a $90,000 one.
Parent Tom Powell disagreed and said he feels the district is very open and that parent discussions are possible. He gave the example of the Spanish program, which was the result of a group of parents coming forward, followed by district research to see whether it was possible. He said other things, like robotics, have happened more organically. Powell said he volunteered his time with robotics and gave input on growth and implementation of the program.
“The people involved provide the feedback, and that has improved the program significantly,” Powell said. “If you have something that you want, ask for it … what is it that people want that they’re not getting at this school? Bring something up.”
Powell said he doesn’t believe anything is “insular or hidden” and said the district couldn’t ask for a better board or superintendent.
Neal said there has never been a concern with trusting Delaney’s leadership; “it’s more about bringing in processes,” she said. “Parents need to be informed and engaged before they can collaborate effectively.”
Buchner said he would love to see more parent involvement, but his experience with the forums so far is that the same handful of people show up every time.
“Some of it is the fact that things are working,” Buchner said. “If people were more upset, they would be here.”
The school board’s next regular meeting will be at 5 p.m. Dec. 10.