Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) Policy and Amendment Committee Meeting Minutes

Note: These minutes should be considered preliminary until they are approved at the next Policy and Amendments Committee meeting

Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) Policy and Amendment Committee

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Regular meeting 2:30 pm

Hybrid meeting: WSESU Central Office, 53 Green St., Brattleboro, VT and

Remotely via Zoom


Policy and Amendment Committee members present: Deborah Stanford (DS, Chair, via zoom), Tim Maciel (TM), Anne Beekman (AB), Eva Nolan (EN, via Zoom)

WSESD/U Staff and Administrators present: Superintendent Mark Speno (MS), Mo Hart (MH), Kerry Amidon (KA), Michael Kelliher (MK), Paul Smith (PS)

Guests attending: Liz Adams (via Zoom),
Robin Morgan (via Zoom)

Call to Order

Chair DS convened the meeting at 2:34 pm and read the hybrid statement.

I. Approval of Minutes and confirmation of next meeting date

The minutes of 07/11/23 meeting approved by assent.

The next meetings for the Policy and Amendments Committee are scheduled for:
Tuesday, Sept 5, 2023

Tuesday, Sept 19, 2023

II. Updates

DS gave the following updates: H7 (Leadership Councils) has been readopted, and F42 (Student Dress Code), E17 (Fire and Emergency Preparedness Drills), and H8 (Access Control and Visitor Management) have been adopted by full Board vote.

III. D1 Personnel-Recruitment, Selection, Appointment, and Background Checks

HR Director Michael Kelliher, Superintendent Mark Speno, the Social Justice Committee, and interested community members were invited to participate in the Policy and Amendments
Committee’s discussion of D1 (Personnel – Recruitment, Selection, Appointment, and Background Checks).

The Social Justice Committee reports that they have been having discussions relevant to hiring practices, how to create diverse selection committees, and how schools are allowing diverse bodies to have a seat at the table. The Social Justice Committee was unsure whether some of their suggestions would fall under policy or procedure.

A discussion ensues on various aspects of personnel recruitment:


EN brings up the discussion around paraprofessionals —the majority of POCs working for the district are in paraprofessional positions. Those positions do not offer a living wage, but they are essential workers. How do we get them licenses, and be able to further their careers? And how can we attract new paraprofessionals?

DS agrees that it is a nationwide issue. She wants this district to be a breath of fresh air in terms of how we deal with paraprofessionals, but she is not sure how we can address this in this meeting.

KA notes that the conversation could start here but may belong at the SD/SU level. Paraprofessionals are under a separate contract. It’s coming up on the end of a three-year
contract, and there could be work towards improving wages, professional development, educational reimbursement… There’s a place for this conversation, but maybe it’s not here. 
MH notes that the Agency of Education has created a pathway for paras to become certified in special education.

Social Justice Ambassadors

MK offers an example from a previous agency where he worked that had social justice ambassadors. They would attend internal job fairs and external recruiting events. They would
talk to potential applicants about social justice in the agency and would also be involved with interviewing. He suggested that we could do a similar thing here and designate a group of social justice ambassadors, provide them with training and get them involved with certain types of interviews.

Paraprofessional certification program and career paths

MK reports that Greenfield Community College (GCC) started a paraprofessional certification program this year. It’s a 6-week summer program and had a 20-person cohort this year. He notes that the district is still trying to fill some open para positions and we may be trying to bring a couple folks over from that program.

MK has also been talking with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC), which is working with people with refugee status. He sees an opportunity to work with BDCC and
GCC, in hopes of bringing them together for next summer’s cohort. This could be a chance to get people from the refugee population into schools as paras.

MK notes that the living wage situation for paras is a broad problem. Maybe for the next round of contract negotiations, we could look towards a career path within the paraprofessional
designation: An entry-level para, then a second level with additional skills, maybe even a third level. The district would benefit from their skills, and the more skilled workers would benefit
from better wages.

New ways of reaching out to candidates
MK notes that until recently the district has been relying on Schoolspring to reach candidates. Now we’re trying new things We’ve started to use Indeed also. For a facilities manager position, there were 15 applicants from Indeed, zero from Schoolspring.
MK also wants the webpage to have prominence. All roads lead to our website to apply. He is hearing the theme of wanting to change culture and mindset. In the HR world, they talk about
changing culture by sharing stories. MK can see developing 30- to 45-second videos of people’s stories, and potential applicants can think, “Here’s someone who looks like me and here’s why they want to work here.”

Breath of fresh air
EN thanks MS and MK for coming to meetings and opening the door to these conversations — that means a lot to everyone. People have been waiting a long time to see movement, and the
vision is a breath of fresh air. One ask: to open up the conversation about what diversity means and why it is important. Kids who are growing up will have bosses and authority figures who will not look like them. It’s not just important for POC kids, it’s important for everyone.

D1 discussion — the new paragraph 4
A discussion ensues about D1, primarily related to the proposed new paragraph 4 (page 2, under Recruitment):

All Supervisory Union (SU) administrative position applications will be reviewed by screening committees appointed by the Superintendent. WSESD Board representatives will
also participate on the screening committees and will be chosen by the full WSESD Board. 
DS notes that an alert could go out to the Board about the need for representation on a screening committee, so there would not be a problematic two-week delay. She appreciates the social justice ambassadors idea, but also thinks PD training may be necessary.

Further highlights from the discussion include:
Appendix of admin positions

In response to questions about which positions would be impacted by this new paragraph 4, MK suggests that an appendix of the relevant administrative positions could be created and
attached to the policy. 
16 VSA 242
PS refers the committee to 16 VSA 242, Duties of Superintendents:
(3)(A) Nominate a candidate for employment by the school district or supervisory union if the vacant position requires a licensed employee; provided, if the appropriate board declines
to hire a candidate, then the superintendent shall nominate a new candidate;

A lengthy discussion ensues regarding 16 VSA 242’s implication for D1.
PS says that with 16 VSA 242 (3), the law seems to put it in the superintendent’s hands to put forth a name for nomination.
RM notes that board members are already serving on screening committees. The new part is that the Board gets to decide collaboratively which board members are going to be present. It would not be appropriate to stop including board members.
PS wonders why the statute is written the way they wrote it.
PS notes that nothing in D1 now requires the superintendent to include board members on hiring committees. Board members are often included, but it falls to the discretion of superintendent. It behooves him to include board members, especially for high profile positions.
DS suggests that it may be time to shake things up a bit and try a different approach.
LA says that unless there is something in the statute that precludes board members being on the committee, then she doesn’t see why they can’t be.
PS clarifies that he is not arguing against board members being on screening committees.
RM notes that the intention of the language of the new paragraph in D1 is not to force the inclusion of board members, but to increase transparency in the process. With the new
language, the discussion of who is serving on hiring committees would be shifted to open meetings. Otherwise it can be very opaque, in terms of who will be on hiring committees and why.

EN notes that there have been invitations for board members to sit on hiring committees. The invitation is important. People don’t always want to ask. From a community standpoint, optics look good — collaboration is happening. For first time, we have Black women being represented on the Board. Historic moment.
DS appreciates that there are women of color on the Board, but notes that the question is broader than that. If there are no people of color on the Board, then what? This is a predominantly white state. The balance between policy and implementation is critical. Would requiring professional development for those who do the hiring give teeth to the policy?
EN agrees that PD is always a plus. This has to become part of the culture. She notes that we are already seeing a culture shift within our schools — for example, with the mascot, that was huge. Let’s keep that momentum going.
TM notes that no one has mentioned curriculum. It’s not just who we hire, but who we hire for what.
“All” applications vs viable candidates
PS brings up a concern about the word “all” in the new paragraph 4: “All SU administration position applications will be reviewed by screening committees…” He notes that there can be
many applicants who are not viable candidates. Will every single application have to be reviewed by the screening committing?

DS agrees that the “all” is a problem. The screening committee will want the pool narrowed down to viable candidates. The question is, Who is doing that narrowing down? This may be where professional development comes in, as a way to help break habits that aren’t our fault.
MK later agrees that the “all” would be challenging. He suggests that if there is concern about the vetting of viable candidates, an auditing process could be implemented. There could be a review process to make sure no one is getting lost.
“What gets paid gets done.”
MK brings up the idea of rewarding hiring managers for achieving diversity goals, as a way to drive culture. It would have to be researched as to whether that is allowed.
DS says this makes her nervous. It doesn’t necessarily have to be monetized to be incentivized. Light a fire under people to get job done. She would like to see #4 strengthened.
The Social Justice Committee’s three questions
The SJC has proposed three questions to be included on all applications for licensed teacher or administrator positions, if possible on Schoolspring. Do they belong in this policy?
The three questions are:
1. Explain your experience(s) working with historically marginalized groups. What have 
you learned from this (these) experiences? Include times when you have made mistakes.
2. Describe your framework for equity and social justice in the classroom (or workplace) 
and its origin,
3. Where did you hear about this job posting?

MK says he has reached out to Schoolspring. Their current format only allows two questions to be included. The SJC’s first two questions are incredibly important. The third — where did you find out about us? — could be built into the interview process.
DS notes that the Social Justice Committee did a good job saying we want to see applicant responses to these questions in writing and that we want to see the responses before the applicant shows up for an interview.
SU vs. SD
Committee agrees that the new paragraph 4 should refer to SD not SU. It is currently worded as “All Supervisory Union (SU) administrative position applications…” It will be changed to “All WSESD administrative position applications…”
All WSESD admin positions
TM asks what is included in “all WSESD admin positions.”
MK says maybe we go back to the idea of an appendix to the policy, listing the positions.
MS suggests we could tie it to positions requiring an administrative license.
Five minute break, reconvened at 4:05 pm
Short discussion follows the break.
LA notes that she’s never seen 40 applicants for a position; having to deal with a large number of applicants may not be an issue. The applicant pool seems to be getting smaller.
DS says she appreciates the intention of the original concern, and also appreciates what LA said. Not sure how the applicant pool can get any smaller. For licensed employees, sometimes there is only one applicant for a position. Since you need a body in the classroom, you hire them. That’s not good. This goes back to MK’s point earlier: We need to increase
the size of the applicant pool. That is the only way to increase possibility of diversity in the applicant pool. This is a universal problem not just in this district.

Moving forward on D1:
TM suggests that in order to have a solid draft of D1 before the next meeting, DS, TM, MK, and PS will meet to work on editing the policy. PS was asked to join to help consider the implications of 16 VSA 242. The committee and MK and PS agree to this plan. The hope is to meet soon, before the September 5 meeting, but given that this is only two weeks away and there is the start of the school year, it may be held for the September 19 meeting.
IV. G8 Continuous Improvement Plan
As there are only fifteen minutes left when the discussion of D1 concludes, the committee agrees to put G8 on hold until the September 5 meeting.
TM notes that G8 was written pre-merger, and it may just need editing to reflect post-merger language. He offers to make those language changes and send the document to MH prior to
the next P&A Committee meeting.

For Sept 5 meeting:
D1 (DS, TM, PS, MK to do editing on this prior to the meeting)

G8 (TM to do post-merger language edits and send to MH prior to meeting) 
Safety policies (if time, otherwise Sept 19; DS to send out prior to meeting)
Meeting adjourned 4:20 pm
Notes taken by Anna Monders (recorder)

Submitted by Tim Maciel (vice chair)

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