BRADENTON -- How communication works, on all levels of the organization, took center stage Tuesday as the Manatee County School Board underwent training with a local consultant on how to work better together.
"Just tell me the honest truth and we'll work through it from there," Superintendent Diana Greene said. "Just lay it out."
That goes both ways.
"Tell me what I need to know, not what I want to hear," board Chairman Bob Gause said. "I have to know facts, and I have to know what's really going on."
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Tuesday was the second session the board had with consultant Barry Banther, as a replacement for the master board-training session in Kissimmee run by the Florida School Board Association. The training aims to help board members communicate more effectively and work together efficiently. The first session run by Banther was
in July when the makeup of the board and senior administrative staff was different.
All board members -- including new member John Colon, who replaced Mary Cantrell after she died in July -- Greene and deputy superintendents Cynthia Saunders and Don Hall participated in the training, which focused on ways to improve what Banther called the "context" of the communication, as opposed to the "content" of the communication.
"Rarely is the dispute over the facts or the content. It's over the context," Banther said. "We make assumptions about people and how they'll react."
Keeping an open mind when communicating with district staff is important, and it's important not to make assumptions senior level staff are ignoring a problem brought to a board member by an indignant member of the public or staff.
"If we don't know, we're not doing anything, but if we do know, we probably are already doing something about it," Hall said.
Senior staff does want the school board to use discretion when passing along messages and concerns. If a district employee contacts the board with an issue, for example, Greene said she definitely wants to know about it.
"If an employee (raises an issue), since they ultimately work for the superintendent, I think the superintendent should know about it," she said.
When members of the public contact the board, it doesn't always need to come to the administration building.
"Other things, they have to make their own judgment on," she said.
Greene said she's hoping the atmosphere is changing and staff members are starting to feel more confident about bringing issues forward, knowing they won't be retaliated against.
"Part of this just comes from them seeing the actions that the administration takes," Greene said.
There does come a sticking point when getting to the root cause of the problem, she said.
"It's very difficult for them to know well what would I take to the superintendent," she said. "If the superintendent is the problem, it's challenging for employees to go say that or vice versa, what if it is the board member that is the problem? It's very challenging for me as superintendent to deal with it. They're my boss. We're talking about these items but we have still not figured out how do we deal with that more effectively."
Board members said they've already felt a change since Greene took over as superintendent during the summer.
"I think there's a lot better communication now with Dr. Greene as superintendent," board member Dave Miner said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.