Beyond the Books

Luann Rivera, a governance consultant with the California School Boards Association, leads a workshop with Travis School District trustees at the district office. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)


Focus on ‘team’ spreads through schools

By From page A1 | December 30, 2013

FAIRFIELD — Tell us one thing about you nobody knows that you’re comfortable sharing, Travis School District trustees were told.

Luann Rivera, a governance consultant with the California School Boards Association who led the workshop for trustees, also had a second subject that won more emphasis.

“Let’s talk,” she said, “about how we’re going to work together as a team.”

For things nobody knew, trustee John Dickerson said he likes to ride motorcycles and was a scuba diver searching shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Board president Ivery Hood spoke about being in Junior Air Force Officer Training Corps in high school and how he now teaches such a class. Angela Weinzinger works as a dental hygienist and as a youth traveled to Sedona, Ariz. Dawn Kirby also rides motorcycles. Riitta De Anda spoke about almost drowning in Lake Michigan as a child.

The team theme took longer at the Dec. 17 leadership and good beginnings workshop.

A mistake a lot of school districts make, Rivera said, is to assume new members are working well and everything will just keep moving forward. Travis Unified has two new trustees – Dickerson and De Anda.

Rivera spoke about her son’s high school basketball team and how they worked together. She showed photographs of school-age children.

“We’re here to build a more effective team,” the consultant said, “so that you can better serve these kids.”

Unity of purpose is really important, Rivera added.

Travis Unified isn’t alone in talking team. The Fairfield-Suisun School District as part of its written procedures includes the statement that private conversation with union officials may lead to misunderstandings and trustees attending meetings with union representatives “are encouraged to do so in pairs.”

Monica Brown, a middle school teacher in Fairfield and a trustee for the Solano Community College District, said precarious funding for K-12 schools helps explain the focus on district trustees as a team. Schools often have to look to the public for money, she said.

“Bickering does not sell,” Brown said.

But Brown said the stress on school officials to act together doesn’t end dissension.

“Behind closed doors,” she said, “there’s bickering.”

Rivera at the Travis workshop said being a team doesn’t mean there’s nothing but 5-0 board votes – an outlook that former trustee Donna Bishop advocates.

At a candidates night before the Nov. 5 election, Bishop answered a question about building consensus among school board members so they’d cast fewer split votes.

“As Americans, that’s what we do sometimes – stand alone,” she had said of 4-1 votes. “I’m OK with being the only one standing up.”

Bishop, who did not win re-election, spoke after the Travis workshop about life as a trustee.

“There is a lot of pressure to be a team,” she said. “It is, I think, frowned at to be a stand alone.”

A registered Democrat who describes herself as conservative, the former trustee said dynamics on the Travis board have changed with the election of two new trustees.

“If I were on the board now, it would feel like a huge amount of pressure to be more liberal,” Bishop said.

Talk of teamwork and collaboration, she recounted, helped lead her to question Common Core State Standards, the new instruction California schools are putting in place. Bishop said at a workshop about Common Core math classes that teams were such a focus that she asked of mathematics, “What about getting the right answer?”

David Macaray, an author and playwright who worked as a union organizer, said team-building jargon began to infiltrate the workplace about a quarter-century ago. Its origins are in Walmart referring to $8-an-hour employees as members of the team, he said.

The word “folks” as a way to refer to people followed a few years later and Macaray remembers first hearing the word used during contract negotiations when management described some workers as “the folks on the floor.”

The “team” term in particular provides a sense of belonging and being part of something larger than yourself, he said.

“I’m not going to knock some of that,” Macaray said of team sentiment.

But the idea is often overused in the workplace and, when it comes to issues like wages, “it’s all lip service,” he said.

Workplace jargon spreads, Macaray added, with human resources departments a key transmitter.

“The more you hear it,” he said, “the more it annoys you.”

Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or [email protected]

Ryan McCarthy


Discussion | 1 comment

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  • Rhee MedboyDecember 30, 2013 - 6:25 pm

    As the saying goes-"There's no I in team." may resonate in some quarters, but remember--there's always 'me'.

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