For 20-plus years I have filled in for staff to cover school board meetings when necessary. With that, I have seen a number of school board meetings and heard discussion from a number of different board members.

Some boards seem less engaged than others while other boards are extremely engaged and concerned, offering more scrutiny. And the one common factor in how engaging board members may be usually centers on the balance of differing of opinions. And sometimes that balance impacts outcomes.

The only bad thing about it, as a reporter, is the meetings seem like they will never end. Discussion can go on and on, allowing time so each side can make their case – sometimes three or four times. But, that’s all fine. Because engaged is better than not engaged in the long run.

Engagement means looking at things in more detail. It can also mean more time spent researching an issue by board members. And, at some point or another, it means a bit more tension in the air because of the passions members have in their conclusions and decisions. That’s the fun part for a journalist. Plus, it’s another way to ensure we won’t nod off when 9 p.m. rolls around.

Our current school board appears to be one of those that will become more engaged. Out of seven board members, there are four of them that tend to think alike with more consistency. That brings to life those on the other side, who may have their own common way of thinking.

What does that mean in the long run?

More information, longer individual thought processes, more discussion and, most importantly, a clearer, broader picture on a given topic for the public.

One of the recent items the board was asked to approve was a social studies curriculum at the tune of more than $421,000. Board president Michael Blankenship pointed out some statements on the company website that is selling the curriculum that dealt with social justice, identity, critical race theory and more. Topics that can create politically charged discussions and emotions.

The social studies material to be purchased was reviewed by teachers, administrators and board members. It was agreed by all that the content was issue-free and quality material. But the fact remains that the company is making statements that will be or could be interpreted as concerning to many, especially in a community like Derby that tends to draw a more conservative base.

The board was not divided on the issue of purchasing the content, except for Blankenship. But the small majority was concerned about the company’s statements and what that means for their ability to continue to deliver apolitical curriculum. The issue of the company’s statements is what created lengthy discussion and whether it should interfere with the purchase.

The district presented questions from Blankenship asking the company to define what they meant by the statements made. Their responses were vague to say the least. And by all real definitions they didn’t answer or even address the questions. That alone is reason for concern.

Not as a journalist, but as a member of the public, I gained a broader perspective of who the company might really be. Because an engaged and concerned board member went the extra step, going beyond the content, to take a look at who the company might be. And with an investment that is shy of half a million dollars, that’s OK.

The bottom line is this discussion wasn’t as much about what the company was offering for sale but about what board members, administrators and teachers should be aware of if issue-based content does start to show up in potential curriculum. It’s not the place or the purpose of schools to educate children to a specific direction with issue-based material.

So, thanks to Mr. Blankenship for pointing it out and bringing it up. And thanks to others on the board who reviewed the content and reminded us at the meeting we were purchasing curriculum, not what may or may not be a company’s ideals.

Purchasing the curriculum was most likely the right decision. What I learned as a patron in the district from all of this is to keep the radar up when it’s time to consider curriculum. And maybe pay more attention to it than I have in the past.


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