In times like this we all need to support each other, work together, and seek to understand before we criticize. For the past month the Augusta School Department has been under siege from parents, school board members and city councilors — most with limited firsthand knowledge of the challenges the School Department faces.

The administration is meeting daily to address the needs of all students in the Augusta School system K-12. In our schools there is a diversified population of approximately 2,200 students. There are various levels of needs, and other dynamics coming into play. In a time like this we need to seek to understand before becoming openly, and inappropriately, critical.

We all have a role in coping with and surviving this pandemic. In helping our community deal with the issue of education, school administrators, teachers, parent and the students all play a critical role. Putting the responsibility solely on the school system, or worse, on the superintendent, is irresponsible and unfair.

During this crisis there is a great opportunity to foster self-reliance in our kids. By using the resources made available from the school system and by setting family expectations, many life lessons can be learned. Character is built when we overcome adversity as a family and community.

Our school board and city council are akin to a large corporation’s board of directors that needs to prioritize the best interest of the business. The city manager answers to the City Council. The superintendent answers to the school board. It is the duty of all elected officials, including the mayor and chairperson of the school board, and to honor the proverbial chain of command. It is not appropriate for us, as elected officials, to reach beyond the city leadership and communicate with department heads, administrators, faculty or staff directly.

Further, issues with personnel are legally required to be handled in executive session, and not in open meetings or on Facebook. When we do this, we weaken the system and put all taxpayers at risk. No proper board would openly attack their management during such a crisis. Being publicly critical at such a time does great harm to the functioning and image of the enterprise.

This is not to say that concerns and feedback should not be voiced and heard. When you are giving feedback, there is a sure way to know if it is constructive or harmful. Ask yourself, who is the feedback for? If the feedback really is of value for the other person, then it is constructive. If your feedback only makes you feel better, and/or draws attention to yourself, then the feedback is harmful.

Constructive questioning is the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others. It can involve both positive and negative comments, but it should be delivered in an encouraging, rather than an oppositional, manner. Although both forms are challenging ideas, character or ability, the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism is the way in which comments are delivered. When someone is giving open public destructive criticism, it can hurt the individual(s) and have negative effects on the organization. Conversely, constructive criticism can promote positive reaction, motivate action, and enhance organizational effectiveness — something all elected officials should be working for on behalf of all citizens.

It is my opinion our school department has addressed the pandemic with responsibility. The school department has created an extensive learning guide, outlines goals, and food distribution, as well as provides contact information for all key personal. They created a six-phase work plan to address a multitude of student, parent and community needs, which includes a remote/distance learning plan.

This learning plan defines roles and expectation for students, with online learning basics, and suggested schedules. Their decisions have been carefully thought out, with learnings from other similar school systems, and address specific needs to the best of their abilities.

Be assured that our superintendent is in weekly contact with other superintendents, and what other systems are doing. I recognize the individual circumstances of many parents who are simultaneously working and monitoring the education of their children in the home. I applaud you as you take on these abrupt new challenges. The school system cannot overcome each of those individual situations; it can only offer guidance.

Again, seek to understand and support those who find themselves managing a city during a crisis. I want to compliment city leaders and department heads for great work in keeping the city operating, keeping us safe and keeping us informed.

David Rollins is mayor of Augusta.


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