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May 17, 2009

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Yes, Rita! Community "conversations" are just as you describe. Remember the "conversations" during the school closures? The school groups at the Fernwood conversation were sent to the table with completely different charges only to discover this on the day the meeting began. PPS continued to insult them by wasting months of parents and community members time by not ever stepping in to clarify the purpose of the meeting. PPS made matters worse by ignoring the recommendation that took almost 6 months to put together. I think Rita is correct in saying:

"In reality, district administrators know what they want to do, know what they're going to do, and despite outcry from the "community", they'll go ahead and do it, the consequences or bruised feelings be damned."

Amen.

Terry,

I thought the words Marian quoted were yours? Please clarify?

Anyway, the story at the Sellwood "Conversation" was similar. Different parties were told different things about why they were there. In the end, the charge to decide which school to close was rescinded, and the Winterhaven community was diverted into their own battle to avoid moving 6 miles from their site--which was NEVER part of the original charge, but which had been in discussion among PPS officials for months by the time the Winterhaven people found out about it!

Clearly, the REAL stakeholders of PPS--the families--are sick of being lied to. This "high school redesign" business, so far, looks like more of the same. I don't think anything is going to improve until we voters can get our act together and elect a school board that has the stones to put the children first. And I mean actually doing that, not just saying it.

Yes, they were mine. Rita's letter is indented and italicized. (It's not the entire letter, by the way.)

Hopefully Rita agrees that "community conversations" are essentially "useless."

Thanks, Terry. It was clear that those were your thoughts, I just got a little sloppy. Sorry!

It's time to organize. www.ppsparentunion.org

Terry, you wondered what I think of "community conversations." That's a tough one for me, actually. The short answer would be that as a participant in public engagement processes sponsored by PPS, the city, and the county, I have found the experience mostly frustrating and occasionally infuriating.

The "conversation" model, in my view, hasn't worked mostly because it hasn't, in fact, been a conversation. That implies that there is a real dialogue, including responses by the public entity to questions with full and accurate information that serves as the basis for discussion. What we've had, it seems to me, are PR exercises with very large focus groups to craft an acceptable message, not engage in critical thinking. It's not for nothing that the process for public comment around the high schools was designed by Pyramid Communications, a PR firm.

Nevertheless, I'm not yet willing to give up on the idea of community engagement altogether. I think there are ways to structure a process that can bring community voices to the table and produce thoughtful, critical analysis and solid public policymaking. But that kind of process is predicated on a few preconditions: a) policymakers who are willing to share information and give up some degree of control over the outcome; b) policymakers who actually want to hear the real community voices, ESPECIALLY those that disagree; and c) community participants who are willing and able to collaborate in good faith. I think we have c; I gotta wonder, though, if we have a and b.

Real collaboration means people being willing to speak and hear inconvenient truths and work together to create solutions that will work for everybody. But that requires that people be honest with each other and say out loud what they really think and need, especially when they disagree. Nobody said it's easy and it certainly isn't quick, but if done right, it can produce durable and effective solutions. And has.

PPS might want to try it sometime.

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