Ferndale's new school board members were sworn in last week and new board president Jim O'Donnell is looking forward to a productive year.
O'Donnell said in a phone interview on Friday that engaging the community in the district's strategic planning process and ensuring open communication between the school board and residents are among his first plans.
He also emphasized improving academic achievement as a top priority, and beginning the budgeting process in February for the next school year.
Ferndale Schools is currently working with consulting firm Project Innovations to formulate a five-year strategic plan for the district.
O'Donnell said the next step in the process is a series of town hall meetings and focus groups - the timing and scope of which will be determined soon.
"They [Project Innovations] have met with all of the district staff and school board members past and present just to get an initial sense of some of the issues in the school district, but the real work starts with the focus groups and the community meetings," he said.
The strategic planning process was approved by the school board last fall and is expected to be completed in June.
"Strategic planning and getting the community engaged in that over the next few months is a top priority," O'Donnell said. "Maintaining and increasing our focus on academic achievement is another one and just [doing] whatever we can while the strategic plan is being developed to keep families in the district."
At the first school board meeting of the year last Monday, O'Donnell charged the district policy committee to form a new subcommittee to review "all of the ways the board deals with its meetings."
This includes issues like broadcasting meetings online - a process that Superintendent Gary Meier and technology director Melissa Auchter have already started - and policies for posting meeting agenda packets and minutes.
"There will be a fairly rigorous process that they will follow," he said of the subcommittee. "In the meantime ... the bylaws that we have should enable us to do a lot of the transparent governance that we want until things are revised."
One change O'Donnell is able to implement right away is no longer requiring community members to fill out a comment card in order to speak at meetings.
Though this is part of the board's bylaws, the board president has discretion on when the public can speak, he said.
"I would interpret that discretion rather broadly and openly," O'Donnell said.
He plans to run the meetings similar to Ferndale City Council meetings, where those who want to make public comment come up one by one or form a line.
The same goes for individual agenda items - O'Donnell said he will ask if anyone from from the public has questions.
It's an effort to "have as few barriers" as possible between district residents and the school board.
"I think people's input, criticisms or viewpoints will only make the whole school district stronger. So I want them to be free to provide their opinions," he said. "And I think in some cases just having a form is a way of making some people discouraged. It doesn't seem like a lot but not everybody is as comfortable as others in public speaking."
The school board's next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Jan. 28 at the Harding Administration Center.
The public can contact the full school board via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and can reach O'Donnell directly at email@example.com.