January 9 – Chambersburg Area School District Superintendent Chris Bigger will hold a public forum this afternoon from 5 to 6 p.m. at the administration building on Stanley Avenue.
A poll on the NewsTalk 103.7FM app asked what are the biggest concerns in the school district? The results included the teacher shortage, personal agendas versus the three R’s and bullying and transparency.
Could this be a new age of open communication?
Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “There’s certainly far more communication out of Chris than even his communications officer. I’ll leave that on the side here, but it’s an important day here.”
Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “It is and I’ll be curious to see what kind of turnout he gets. This is a great idea, this idea of a public forum, a town hall to hear what people are concerned about. I like those three options you have on your poll. Those are certainly three of the big things. I imagine he may hear some of that tonight, among other things. I’d also be curious if this goes well, and I think it will, might this become a regular event. I could envision that you do one of these kinds of meetings every six months, sort of thing, just to get feedback. There’s a lot of people that are not comfortable coming to a public school board meeting. They don’t want to do stuff over social media. So this is a good way for them just to come in on a more informal basis and get up and let him know what their concerns are.”
Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM noted, “I think it’s just a welcome after trying to get through essentially a sort of a communications PR slash PR person and some many Right to Knows had to be filed in the past to know things. Even if there’s something he cannot go into detail about, just to have him there and to hear the concern and to say something about, okay, I’m going to try to get some answers for you, I think would be just such a welcome change to what has happened in the past. I hate that it feels like no offense, Clint, everybody is worried about what’s happened legally, if we say the wrong word? It’s such a shame, and it’s sad, but I’m glad he’s making the effort to be face to face with folks and hear their concerns.”
Barkdoll agreed, “I think you’ll see the public respond favorably today. I certainly hope so. I’m not clear how it’s being run. Maybe he’s just going to moderate the whole thing himself and if there are time limits on it. I’ll be just really curious to see how this all goes.”
Ryan suggested, “Let’s make sure we have time limits and it’s not Matlock speech and a Matlock tour here. What’s the concern? Let’s get at it. So everybody gets a chance here. I don’t need to hear your life’s history, or your extended family’s life’s history. What we need to do is we need to hear what Chris has to say about boom, here’s my concern. What do you think?”
Barkdoll said, “That’s what it should be. This should not be a forum for people to get on their soapbox for 15 minutes and it becomes Festivus, all of their grievances. Let’s hear what the point is and then move to the next speaker.”
CASD School Board Member Stephanie Harbaugh said, “My hope is that there’s going to be a lot of people in attendance for this forum. It seems to be that there are a lot of people in the community that have been asking for that transparency, that have been asking to know what’s going on, that want to tell people some of the issues that they’re having or some of the problems that they see, and he’s really putting himself out there and he’s giving people this opportunity. It’s not very often in this world that you actually give the people what they want. I believe that he is making an earnest effort to do that. So I’m really hoping to see a good turnout. My understanding is that it’s pretty much just going to be him sitting there and fire away questions and he will do his best to answer them and I am certain as with my experience with him, if there is something he doesn’t have an exact answer to, he’s not going to try to pretend that he does, but he will get you that information as it becomes available to him.”
There are other forums planned, some with specific topics, but tonight will be a Q&A session.
Harbaugh confirmed, “That is my understanding. This first one is just going to be a kind of what are you guys thinking? What are you feeling out there? Just kind of get your feet wet, like a little pilot program, if you will. Then my understanding is that they think the meetings going forward, the forums are going to be specifically about academics or maybe about goal setting for the district and so on and so forth.”
Jansen said, “If you think about the last few years, there’s been a tremendous loss of trust and that’s not necessarily our teachers’ fault. I really put them well below others in terms of things that we’ve just seen happening in academia across the country in the revelation during COVID, especially, of some lessons children were getting that parents were quite shocked about. There’s just been a lot of reasons. We see ideology sometimes being pushed very hard in certain school districts, doesn’t mean it’s happening in ours necessarily, but there’s books that have shown up in libraries, including some of the libraries around here that seem to be just age inappropriate or even unnecessary to be in a high school library when all this stuff is available and they get so much of this kind of thing through social media. It’s like why aren’t we raising the standards when it comes to our libraries? There’s just a lot of reasons that parents have lost some trust in academia and school systems, with COVID being shut out of schools, things like that as well. So having this is just a tremendous way for this new superintendent to reach out and say, listen, true or not, if something’s going on within our school district, maybe some things are exaggerated, maybe some things are an impression rather than necessarily the facts. And some of it is the facts. We need to re-establish that trust between the school district, the parents, the teachers and the administration.”
Harbaugh said, “I think the general consensus is that there’s been a lot of, I guess turmoil would be a nice way to put it over the past few years. I can’t really speak to that because I haven’t been involved in that. I don’t know what I don’t know and it’s one of those things that regardless of what has happened in the past, we have to make sure that we are understanding where we’re at now and that while we need to be aware of those things, we have an opportunity here I think to pivot and move in a better direction, not only for the district, but for the communication between the district and the community at large. I really believe in everything that Chris has said that if you come and you listen to him and you speak to him, he is the person at this time that’s going to put us in the right direction. That’s my true feeling because he has a real desire to set true goals, not only for the district, but for the board itself, and to make sure that we’re all working together to understand that ultimately, we want to do what’s best for the students. I think that we all feel that way, but with things that have happened in the past, there’s been some distrust. There’s been a little bit of animosity, and that’s not going to get fixed overnight. So the only way that we as a board or as a district can try to improve that and I’ll just speak for myself is to put my money where my mouth is and try my best to help foster better, honest, true relationships with other board members, with community members and with those people that work in the district as well.”