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Unsigned letter prompts School Board discussion

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Unsigned letter prompts School Board discussion
Jamestown North Dakota 121 3rd St NW 58401

An unsigned letter mailed to members of the Jamestown Public School Board sparked a discussion about chain of command, rather than the subject of the letter itself.


The author identified himself/herself as a Jamestown Public School employee. The letter said teachers, aides and staff are "well aware of what's going on" at Lincoln Elementary School and asked, "Why are we hiring people for new positions and not opening them up so that other people may apply?"

The board and district staff discussed the letter at the board's regular meeting Monday.

The letter was likely written in reference to a program called Positive Behavior Support that the district recommended Lincoln Elementary School adopt. The program would incorporate positive reinforcement to improve student behavior and therefore improve academic performance, said Rhoda Young, director of the James River Special Education Cooperative. Young presented the program at the board's May 4 regular meeting.

Superintendent Bob Toso said the district isn't hiring a new position and never intended to. To incorporate the program at Lincoln, the district would spend about $10,000 on consulting fees and other training for district staff. The district would fund the program with stimulus dollars.

But as for the letter's "what's going on" at Lincoln, Toso said he didn't know what the letter writer meant.

"I don't know what they're referring to and I'm being honest with you on that," he said.

For board members Tanya Ostlie and Ann Hoggarth, the problem at Lincoln is a lack of discipline, Hoggarth said after the May 4 meeting. Discipline isn't handled correctly there, she said, and other schools don't have similar issues. Or, if they do, the issues are handled more effectively, she said.

The letter urged School Board members to speak with school personnel. Some employees are afraid to come forward with complaints or concerns, the letter said.

But employees should follow the chain of command when issues arise, Toso said. He said he's talked to various Lincoln employees regarding the Positive Behavior Support more than once. Some, but not all, of the employees are excited about it, he said.

However, should employees have a concern regarding the program or in general, first they should speak to their principal, then they should speak to the superintendent, he said. Bringing complaints directly to the board makes it difficult for him to do his job.

The letter was not mailed to Toso.

"We have to work together as administrators and the board," he said.

Member Scott Walch agreed. Employees should follow the chain of command, he said, but they should also feel comfortable approaching board members in confidence if they fear retribution.

Hoggarth and Ostlie both said if employees address them with concerns, they ask the employee if they've spoken to the administration.

Board member Greg Allen said following the chain of command is the most efficient way to handle complaints or concerns.

"If someone doesn't want to take it to me," Toso said, "maybe it's not as big of a problem as it's perceived to be."

Member Gail Martin said the School Board should try to back administration better. Employees address the board expecting a different answer, but the board-hired administration is employed to handle most of those concerns.

Martin also questioned whether an unsigned letter should be added to the board's agenda.

Allen and Board President Roy Musland also had concerns regarding mail from anonymous authors.

"If you feel that strongly to write a letter like this, sign it," Musland said.

Ostlie said the board should discuss the author's concern.

"I don't think that because a letter isn't signed means that we don't address it," Ostlie said.

In other business, the board also approved spending about $90,000 on summer maintenance projects. Some of the projects include $30,000 on roof repair, $16,500 on lettering at the Jamestown High School and Jamestown North buildings and $10,000 on painting stripes at the high school parking lot.

Also, the district made its proficiency goals for Adequate Yearly Progress, Toso said.

More than 84 percent of the district was proficient in math, he said, a difference of about 10 percent compared to last year. In reading, about 79 percent of the district was proficient, he said, a difference of about 6 percent.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Jamestown Public School Board is 5:15 p.m. June 1. A special meeting regarding how to spend stimulus money is set for 5:15 May 26.

Sun reporter Katie Ryan can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at