Community and Board of Education came together Tuesday evening
By Chuck Gibson
They came, some 250 strong, citizens of Loveland to speak their piece during the Loveland Schools Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening, November 19. A select few were given three timed minutes each to address members of the board, and the public on hand. They stepped forward, sat at a table facing the board and began speaking into a microphone. The board greeted each speaker and listened quietly without response as they had their say.
Their words were not new. The air was thick with tension and stress as several people expressed their feelings regarding the recent failed school levy. They spoke of lost trust in the board, feelings of exclusion from the process, concern about being “sold” a plan, and listed reasons why they felt that way. While their speeches registered complaint about what happened, they asked to be included, made more aware, more educated before any plan is placed on a ballot, and to be heard. They suggested that the Grailville land acquisition should be scrapped and the plan consultants be fired.
A strong message was delivered. Each speaker received a hardy round of applause from the crowd as they concluded their remarks. Most of those who spoke did not in favor the failed levy or how it was presented. None took registering a NO VOTE lightly. Only one speaker identified herself as a Yes vote. She and her husband moved to Loveland just six years ago and have two children in the primary schools. They were disappointed by the animosity during the levy campaign. All expressed the desire to work together moving forward. All support Loveland Schools, the teachers and the students. Among them, was Roberta Paolo, maybe best known as Granny from Granny’s Garden at Loveland Schools.
“Most of the speakers, except for one were part of the original NO committee,” said Paolo. “I was with them from the beginning. I’ve heard it all. There were no surprises.”
Granny said the “packed house” sent a loud and clear message to the board.
“Listen to us, respect us,” she said. “We have a wealth of talent and resources in this community we are not drawing from, we should be drawing from.”
Opportunity was a common theme in the messages delivered during the BOE meeting. The community wants to see the board use this levy defeat as an opportunity to come together for the future. At the close of the business for the meeting, the board and the public moved from the LMS Media Center to the school cafeteria for a community session together.
The estimated 250 citizens on hand filled the cafeteria as BOE President Art Jarvis spoke first. He thanked everyone for coming out. His personal message to the community promised collaboration moving forward to give every Loveland resident a voice and understanding of how they work together. School Superintendent Dr. Amy Crouse defined the purpose for the community session as “coming together”, ”taking the first step on a long journey to healing”, “listen to everybody”, and “engage the community” in two-way conversations to make decisions going forward.
Jeffrey Stec was introduced to the community by Superintendent Crouse with the explanation he was hired as a neutral facilitator. She had discussions with other leaders and school districts about how to begin the process of healing.
“I thought it was better to get someone neutral, not to stand between us, but an effort to allow us to sit with you,” Crouse told the crowd. “I am thrilled so many people are here, so many people willing to make this step forward, to come up with the next great plan for our kids.”
Stec took the meeting from there. He didn’t waste any time getting to the why of the matter. Answer: good decisions supported by the community that happen without any additional pain. He acknowledged Loveland is in pain right now. The community needs to work together. He cited his mantra: “People support what they co-create.” They need to be included. He identified that as the goal.
The challenge, Stec identified is the questions and upset community. “The whole community is in fight or flight mode,” said Stec. Heal was the next key word from him. The community is disconnected and must reconnect before trying to understand the challenges, heal the pain and close the division.
“Tonight we just want to come together, listen without arguing, rebuild trust and come together as neighbors,” Stec said. “Get information to inform board and all going forward.”
Stec instructed the crowd to join in small groups of two-three people just to start listening, no debating and to specifically mix with strangers and those from the “other side” of the issue.
They listened and then shared what they heard from one another in small intimate groups. When they got up to speak several key words and phrases were revealed. Everyone supports schools, teachers and did not vote against them. There is concern about transparency for the master plan. Details of the buildings would be helpful. Groups included teachers, yes votes and no votes and want to know what they’ll do together to move forward. Affordability was identified as a key issue.
Unity was happening in the cafeteria among the citizens of Loveland. They said so as they found the common ground of willingness and ability to come together in support of Loveland schools, teachers, students, and community members. They acknowledged the humanity of their fellow citizens, felt their isolation, fear and understood concerns about fixed income households. They recognize the diverse socioeconomic demographics of Loveland. The saw a completely different perspective.
“People want to support their schools, everybody in the group wants to support the school,” said Pat Hill, longtime Loveland resident. “What was put up was not palatable. Too many agendas bundled into one made it too much. If it passed, I gotta move. It was a real heartfelt support. I want to make it work.”
On Tuesday night, it sounded and looked like the healing has begun in Loveland. The community spoke, the school board listened, and everyone got together. Healing takes time. Trust has to be earned. It is only the first step, but it was a big step for the community of Loveland.
Photo captions: It was a packed house at the Loveland BOE meeting Tuesday night as the community spoke and a facilitator revealed a clear plan for healing and collaboration.