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Keith Jacobus Viewpoint: Transparency and the art of decision-making

The word transparency is one that has become synonymous with decision-making, strategic planning, budget development and management, business meetings and a host of other processes that we engage in every day as school administrators. I believe strongly in transparency as a method to develop trust with our staff and the community. We have worked hard to be transparent in our thinking and decision-making as we navigate a number of complex and emotional issues facing us this spring.

One challenge with transparent decision-making is determining when to start sharing information with stakeholders. When information is shared early difficulties can arise quickly when questions cannot be answered, or concerns regarding the decision spark emotional reactions. When work is done ahead of time, and then shared with stakeholders for input, it can create a situation where people question the concept of transparency. As a working definition, I believe that transparency incorporates the open sharing of information and thinking, but also the concept that when work is done outside of the public eye leaders are functioning with integrity to the process and to our stakeholders.

This year we have been faced with a number of problems and opportunities that challenge our thinking and also our decision-making process. When difficult decisions need to be made, the concept of transparency becomes a focal point in the discussion and the process.

One opportunity that came to us as a system is the possibility of acquiring the Crosswinds Arts and Science School. We are a member of the East Metro Integration District (EMID), and have financially supported the operation of the school since it was built. This year EMID made the decision to discontinue operating the school and sought interest from member districts in taking over the governance of the building. Eventually the EMID board also sought interest from other governmental agencies that would be eligible to take over the building. The ultimate decision on who will govern the building has not been decided. In the case that we would acquire the building, we are working to determine the best way to incorporate the building into our system in order to address our future needs. Our website has a more in-depth discussion of the questions we have been asked and where we are in the decision-making process regarding our possible acquisition of Crosswinds. The timeframe and the complexity of the decisions we need to make bring us back to the concept of transparency.

When the opportunity to acquire the building was presented to us last fall, we began examining our needs as a school district. We considered how we might look at a transition plan for the current students and program, as well as the long-term potential for the building. Throughout November, our central administrative team gathered information and examined the potential for the school and the current program.

While the work was being done, it was not secretive. It was simply what we needed to do to be prepared to answer questions; to conduct research and prepare properly prior to entering into the discussion with our community.

In December, we convened a committee of staff and parents to fully analyze the potential plan. Once we felt the idea had been analyzed enough to warrant continuing with the plan, we scheduled meetings with the staff and parent groups who would be most affected by the proposed changes. This is the point we were at when the fine line of being completely transparent became difficult. Prior to holding public meetings, some information was circulated in the community and a number of conclusions were drawn before we could explain the process and the decision to those most closely impacted.

While no final decision has been made about how we may utilize the building, the emotions surrounding the proposed plan have generated questions about transparency and the integrity of our process. I want you to know I believe that disagreement and productive conflict aid in good decision-making but should not be a sign of a breakdown in transparency or collaborative decision-making. Sometimes there is no right or wrong answer so disagreements will need to be accepted.

As leaders we will continue to face the delicate balance of building trust through collaboration while realizing that some work needs to be done behind the scenes to prepare for public participation in the process.