OPINION: Ineffective Communication on Display at Board Meeting

OPINION: Ineffective Communication on Display at Board Meeting

Sweetwater County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees Chairwoman Carol Jelaco during the school board meeting June 10. SweetwaterNOW photo by David Martin

The following opinion piece is a community submission and doesn’t reflect the opinion of TRN Media. 

If anyone wanted proof of ineffective communication within Sweetwater County School District No. 1, all they really needed to watch was Monday night’s school board meeting.

In her resignation letter, Kari Cochran outlines several issues she experienced while serving as a board member, one being ineffective communication. Board Chairwoman Carol Jelaco highlighted this problem when responding to my request for comment regarding Cochran’s allegations. 

Instead, Jelaco opted to read a statement complaining about how local media handled the story and didn’t reach out to her for comment. As I told Jelaco, I had attempted to contact the district last week, even having had an interview set up with Superintendent Kelly McGovern, but McGovern and the district failed to contact us when we were told to expect a phone call. 

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The fact that Jelaco wasn’t aware of my attempts is a prime example of ineffective communication within the district. For example, why wouldn’t Jelaco be informed by the district that SweetwaterNOW or any other publication was seeking comment on an issue that could potentially involve her? Beyond that, being questioned at a school board meeting for a response is seeking comment, even if Jelaco was annoyed with the timing of the question. Approaching a board during a public meeting isn’t generally something we would do, but with few exceptions it has been difficult for us to receive comments from district staff in a timely manner and I felt speaking to the board during the public comment period was the best option available. Jelaco squandered an opportunity to have her side of the story known and was told as such by people attending the meeting.

Ignoring the fact that SweetwaterNOW attempted to contact the district and seek another side of this story, Jelaco’s response still comes off as tone deaf as she and the district had adequate time to respond even if they weren’t contacted specifically. The resignation was submitted on a Saturday, June 1, and external knowledge of that resignation was not widely known until the following Monday. That gave two days for a response to be emailed to local media in preparation for news of Cochran’s resignation to break. If Jelaco wanted to have her comments in the public sphere, she had time to craft them and make sure they were out there, even after articles were published.

While we can continue to play the “should have, would have, could have” game, it’s important to note that communication and transparency are things the board has committed to working on. Trustees Cole Wright and Danielle Schumacher say the district is working to improve communication, and for now they and the school board should be trusted with that. The district will also have a new superintendent soon, which we remain hopeful will result in a fresh set of eyes and a new guiding philosophy that will lead the district into the future, as well as an improved means of working with the media. 

What Monday night represents is a lesson to be learned – that ineffective communication is a hurdle to be overcome at Sweetwater County School District No. 1.