Denver School Board in group therapy

Here’s a highly political group that decided to seek help:

A Denver marital therapist has been hired to work with school board members after a tumultuous Monday meeting exposed deep rifts among the new board about the future of school reform in the city.

A day after approving controversial reforms at the city’s most troubled middle school and following the swearing in of three new members, the district was wary of a possible legal challenge and that the reform package could be overturned.

Colorado’s open-meetings law specifies when public agencies may close meetings. It does not make allowances for private therapy sessions, only for discussion of personnel actions, contracts or other legal matters.

Board members say healing, public or private, must begin.

I’m torn on whether I think this is a good idea.  There is a lot of potential for this to be done poorly, as has happened in many teambuilding and leadership group therapy sessions.  If it isn’t part of an ongoing effort–that is, a one-off activity designed to heal all rifts–it is certain to fail.  There are also environmental concerns that must be addressed, and those will be tough.  The various constituencies of the board members will tend to have strong ideas about their own priorities and varying regard for those of others.  Although I think it’s generally a good idea for teams to develop awareness of their processes, I’m not sure the board could be called a team, and I’m not optimistic about their chances for success.

Who knows, though?  It worked for Metallica.

UPDATE:  The DPS Board was forced to open its therapy session after a legal challenge by The Denver Post under the Colorado Open Meetings Law.  The initial push for a closed meeting appears to me to be the lesser scandal here–the greater scandal in my view is that the meeting is being held at the Broadmoor Hotel (very expensive) in Colorado Springs (nowhere near Denver).  Ignore everything above–it’s going to be a bust.

2 responses to “Denver School Board in group therapy

  1. Joseph,

    What a great initiative by the School Board …better to work out the process than to keep fighting when the stakes (public education) are so high and the value conflicts so deep.

    But I’m wondering why a marriage counselor. If the school board were like, say, Oasis, we could appreciate a therapist skilled in entrenched dyadic battles…. but for a board, group, or team I’d have suggested an OD person, someone with a systems focus, or maybe even someone skilled in ADR.
    Based on what’s happening in lots of communities over public education, this could be a growth industry for consulting.

    Also, it’s kind of amazing to think that this counseling could occur ‘in public’. I can’t imagine being the consultant trying to create psychological safety and trust in public. I hope it’s not an elected school board…. wouldn’t the initiative then be doomed?

    • CV – I believe the board is elected, and therefore subject to sunshine laws. I, too, would have suggested a skilled OD/systems focus (in fact, I really think that’s the best-case scenario), but I have a hard time imagining even that without the safety and trust of private work. I’ll keep an eye on it and let you know what I hear.

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