An insider's view of a school board

Blog gives Guilderland's Peter Golden a platform to comment on education

SCOTT WALDMAN Staff Writer
Section: Capital Region,  Page: C1

Date: Sunday, July 8, 2007

GUILDERLAND - Peter Golden's blog probably won't win him lots of friends in the Guilderland Central School District.


Since May, Golden has been writing about his experiences as Board of Education member on his own Web site. He's received mixed reviews from his fellow board members for "Boardside: Dispatches from the Education Wars." The blog, basically an online diary, uses a combination of satire and reflection to rehash board meeting minutes and incite debate.


On "Boardside," Golden has filed reports about personal meetings with the superintendent and the "occasional lapses in adult behavior by some of the board."


He even coined a term for school board members: "dronoids," which he defines as a cross between "drone" and "android" that refers to "Board of Education members who emit a low-humming sound that is oftimes confused with human thought and human speech."


Golden, a published author who has done freelance articles for the Times Union and The New York Times, started his board term two years ago. He said he began the blog this spring in hopes it would bring more people into the school board process.


He was motivated to start it, he said, because more people vote in presidential elections than in school board races, even though the latter could have more of a direct effect on their lives.


"I wanted to open the process," Golden said. "I wanted people to be more interested."


Golden, 53, does not hide his disdain for ineffective school boards. The blog introduction includes the Mark Twain quote "In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards."


Videos, letters, quotes, pictures and interviews are all part of Golden's plans for the future of the site. He said his Web site has received visitors from as far away as China and lists almost 4,000 hits in a Web counter.


It has also raised the hackles in Guilderland.


"It shows a lack of respect for others on the board," Board Vice President John Dornbush said. Dornbush said the site was inappropriate, but declined further comment on the blog.


Don Csaposs, Guilderland's director of development, railed publicly against the blog at a June school board meeting. It's one-sided, self-promoting, violates the board's code of ethics and does little to bring together board members with opposing views, he said.


"It's not a good advertisement for the notion of collaborative behavior," Csaposs said.


Others have questioned why there is no place for readers to comment. However, Golden said he'll post any responses he gets.


Board member Barbara Fraterrigo said Golden has shown he is willing to change his site when others voiced concern over comments they perceived as disrespectful. She said he had already taken down some remarks.


Fraterrigo said the site is a reflection of free speech in the modern age. She said it is another means to give the public information.


"It just develops the conversation on education and the needs of education," she said.


Golden said any criticism of his right to free speech will only make him speak out more. He said he has an informal editorial board that evaluates his postings after they are up to determine if he has gone too far and that he has already followed some of their advice.


He said he would not post the contents of private conversations among board members; the meetings give him more than enough material.


"We're amusing enough in public," he said.


He dismissed criticism leveled at him by a community member at a recent school board meeting that he profits from the site. Golden said his blogging actually takes away from time he would otherwise spend on the book he is currently writing about the Cold War.


School board members must be careful with blogs, said Sally Klingel, a senior extension associate with Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations School. She said they could be valuable if they encourage more discussion, but problematic if they reveal private information in a public format.


"He would have to toe the line on only reporting his thoughts," said Klingel, whose work includes conflict resolution with school boards and teachers' unions.


New York State School Boards Association spokeswoman Barbara Bradley said school board members are within their rights to create such blogs, although she was not aware of any others in New York. She expects Golden's unusual site will be joined by many more.


"School board members have a right to speak as individuals," Bradley said. "This is another vehicle for them."


Golden ultimately sees the blog as an important community outlet. He is looking forward to the debate it will encourage.


"What governs a district is the friction between the administration and the board," Golden said. "If a board doesn't supply the friction, the governance doesn't get done."








Scott Waldman can be reached at 454-5080 or by e-mail at swaldman@timesunion.com.





****FACT BOX:****


Educational updates


To read Peter Golden's blog, go online to http://www.PeterGolden.com and click on the link "Boardside: Dispatches from the Education Wars."