In an attempt to increase transparency and community engagement, the Board of Education’s policy committee is creating a website where parents, students, or anyone in the community can see the ins and outs of the district’s policy-making process.

The goal of the digital adventure is to allow members of the public the ability to influence policy during its earlier stages in the system.

“We started to focus on engagement and transparency, and what emerged was the possibility or opportunity for the policy committee to create its own website to share with the community the work we are doing and the policies currently in place,” Superintendent Dr. Karen Baldwin told the board June 26.

She used the example of homework policy to outline the idea.

“We have identified policies that we are engaged in reviving, such as the homework policy,” she said. “During focus groups for start times, we heard themes emerging for overall wellness and stress, and homework emerged as a central part of that. The current homework policy was adopted in 1995, and things have obviously evolved.”

Before sitting down

The point of the website would be to get parent and student feedback before a new policy — for homework, for example — was even developed, Baldwin said.

The superintendent said the website should ensure the committee’s decisions are reflecting the wants of the community from the beginning.

“The process would remain the same, bring the policy forward to the full board, but we felt like engaging the community was very important in these things,” said board member Sharon D’Orso. “We would get input before we even sit down and start drafting, so as we go into the draft, we have feedback from some stakeholders.”

Feedback and responses

There were still questions to be addressed about receiving feedback in practice.

“There would be a place to leave comments on certain policies. Now the questions are: if all [the comments] stay up there, is it a forum, or will we receive it as an email to be responded to?” D’Orso said.

Board member James Keidel voiced similar concerns.

“Is the goal feedback or giving information?” he asked. “Would you respond to everybody?”

The website should have an automated response, board member David Cordisco suggested, and the rest of the board agreed.

Other websites

Aside from the organization of the responses and feedback, members also wanted to focus on enhancing and improving the existing Board of Education website — not just the new policy committee website.

“The work that we are attempting to do is good work, and will create a stronger relationship with the parent community,” Baldwin said. “But what would prevent us from enhancing the current website? We could make a commitment to put more information on the district website and measure engagement and participation from the community. We could enhance and put a statement regarding the committee's’ work and really build this up.”

Board Chair Fran Walton wondered how this model of transparency could eventually be applied to other committees, or even other Ridgefield boards.

The project will be revisited in a committee meeting Thursday, July 13.