MG BHS Protest 050619 (copy)

Close to 200 students and parents participated in a protest at Blacksburg High School earlier this month after recent personnel changes at Blacksburg High School. That led to a meeting last week to discuss how to better improve communication.

Montgomery County school leaders met with students, parents and teachers earlier this week to discuss how the district can step up its communication on employee matters.

Due to legal restrictions, MCPS — like other public entities — is limited on the specifics it can disclose on personnel matters. However, that doesn’t mean transparency can’t be improved, one county school board member said.

“We need to respond to all stakeholders consistently,” said Connie Froggatt, who participated in Monday’s meeting. “It assures stakeholders that we’re doing everything we can, and that our kids are safe.”

Calls for the school district to improve transparency came in the wake of several personnel changes at Blacksburg High School.

The school district was criticized following the abrupt departure of Blacksburg High history teacher Bradley Kraft in March.

Parents and teachers questioned whether his departure was tied to disclosures Kraft  made in his classroom about his mental health. They also voiced concerns about the issue sending the wrong message about that issue.

Similar community unease occurred when the school’s principal, Brian Kitts, was abruptly replaced less than a month before the high school’s May 31 graduation.

Kitts’ departure prompted a May 6 sit-in protest by more than 150 students, who also issued a list of five “demands” to county schools Superintendent Mark Miear.

Monday’s meeting explored ways to improve communication and transparency.

The meeting participants subdivided into groups to discuss communication , said Froggatt.

Among ideas suggested was that all stakeholders — students, parents, staff and teachers — receive the same message at the same time after an employee issue arises, Froggatt said.

There was also a suggestion that, regardless of the exact circumstances, a departing employee’s professional contributions always be recognized in the message, Froggatt said.

“It’s acknowledging the loss and what that is going to be,” she said. “It’s humanizing it a little bit more.”

Froggatt reiterated the challenge of communicating specific personnel matters. Even the wide sharing of a school district policy following a employee departure is unlikely due to the fact it may provide hints on the issue, she said.

However, Froggatt — who’s not seeking re-election — said the school district’s communication about the recent Blacksburg High events didn’t fulfill some of the suggestions made in the May 20 meeting.

“It’s fair to say not enough of that kind of information was provided in the recent situations,” said Froggatt, who represents District F on the school board, which includes part of Blacksburg and northern Montgomery County.

The next step, Froggatt said, will be to send the suggestions to a leadership team that will be assigned to devise a more consistent messaging system. She said she plans to attend those discussions, but she said the leadership team’s roster has not been set.

“I think that for the most part it was very beneficial, in that it seems that members … of central office really are beginning to make serious effort to listen to the community,” said Christian Shushok, a Blacksburg High School junior and one of the student organizers of the recent protest.

Shushok said it’s important changes are implemented as part of efforts to regain the community’s trust.

“I think we’re just going to have to wait for time to tell,” he said.

Miear wasn’t present at Monday’s meeting.

“There were concerns that teachers might not feel comfortable yet about speaking freely,” she said. “He didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable with his presence there.”

Reached on Wednesday , Miear said the recent meeting fulfills a promise the school district made a few weeks ago on improving communication.

“Communication is important to any organization,” he said. “I think we got good feedback.”

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Yann Ranaivo covers local government and politics in the New River Valley, including Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Radford and Montgomery County.

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