ROSELLE, NJ — The Roselle Board of Education had a virtual retreat on Saturday, April 3. Also in attendance were Superintendent of Schools Nathan L. Fisher, Assistant Superintendent Lissette Gonzalez-Perez, school business administrator and board secretary Anthony Juskiewicz and board governance consultant Deborah L. Keys Write.
The superintendent said that the skills he had learned from the previous board retreat, in February, had proved meaningful and useful, and that he had been able to implement them immediately. He hoped this retreat would prove just as useful.
“I’m looking forward to this next session, as we engage with Ms. Keys Write and we have some major takeaways from today. … It allows us to facilitate the vision of the district,” said Fisher on Saturday, April 3. “I’m very excited, and I hope the public has an opportunity to listen in on this retreat to see some of the things that we’re doing to make the Roselle Public Schools a better school district.”
Keys Write explained to those at the meeting the roles of the Board of Education and the superintendent.
“There’s a reason why there is a Board of Education, which is the governing oversight, ensuring that the district is running properly while the superintendent and his staff are running the day-to-day operations,” Keys Write said on Saturday, April 3. “This is the Board of Education’s vision, and the superintendent is charged to implement it. It’s not necessarily the board’s responsibility to say how to do it. You are to say, ‘This is what we need done, superintendent; what’s your plan to get it done?’ That’s the relationship that the board and superintendent team will have.”
Keys Write broke down the four agreements of courageous conversation, as laid out by Glenn E. Singleton and Cyndie Hays: stay engaged, expect to experience discomfort, speak your truth and expect and accept a lack of closure.
“Stay fully engaged as much as you can,” Keys Write said. “I understand the outside commitments, but let’s stay fully engaged. We have sometimes experienced discomfort with what we’re hearing, but that’s OK. That’s where change happens.
“You shouldn’t be comfortable with everything that you’re doing,” Keys Write continued. “If we’re really trying to make some changes, there should be some uncomfortableness. It’s not always a negative thing, and that’s where change happens. Everyone has a voice that is important, and there’s a place for everyone to share their voice.
“Speaking your truth is saying not just what you want others to hear, but to actually share your lived experiences and how it connects to you doing this governing work,” she said. “This governance work is twofold. It is hard work and it is also heart work. It does pull at your heart, but we have to display and exhibit what we call emotional intelligence, where we have to recognize the emotional part of us, but we have to make decisions based on facts, data and listening to all data points. Speaking the truth helps that.
“For expect and accept nonclosure, this work is continuous,” she added. “This is a space where sometimes we get frustrated, because we want it done and done now. You have to accept nonclosure, because this is where the dialogue continues to go with the team, so that you can get the work done. It doesn’t happen overnight. These are always my agreements, any time I work with a board. We all have to engage in this space, being respectful of each other and speaking truth, but understanding that we need more than our feelings to make decisions. The Board of Education is a collective body, not an individual board member.”
Keys Write explained that the board’s authority governs adopting policies, establishing a vision and goals, whereas the superintendent’s authority governs implementing operations. She urged the leadership team to remember what their role is at all times when governing over the district but also urged them to work together.
Finally, Keys Write stressed the five habits of high-impact school boards, as described by Doug Eadie: Concentrate on governing, develop the capacity to govern, participate in leading innovation and strategic change, develop a healthy board–superintendent partnership, and actively reach out to the wider community.
“The fact that all the board members should have our set goals, communicate with our superintendent exactly what we are looking for and have a good relationship, we have to collectively know what we want for our board and what we want to see,” Board President Angela Alvey-Wimbush said on Saturday, April 3. “When all nine of our voices get together collectively and explain what we want our Board of Education to look like and have that communication with Dr. Fisher, then we can move the district forward, according to what we would like to see. Have we ever had the moment to sit down collectively as a board to discuss what are the things that we want to see? I don’t feel like we’ve really had that moment. So that would be a nice highlight for us to do.
“It also gives us a chance to hear one another, plan, and utilize our gifts and talents,” she continued. “Everyone has gifts and talents, something that we can bring to the board. But sometimes I feel like we don’t communicate and get a chance to see what we want to see in the board. With this information, it could enlighten us to start planning a meeting where we can sit down and figure out what would we like to see in the Board of Education first, before we bring it to Dr. Fisher, and then Dr. Fisher, with his expertise, would sit down and figure out what he’d like to do.”