Two public forums hosted by the union representing public school employees yielded initial proposals presented during last week’s meeting of the Gulf County School Board.

Neither found any traction, at least publicly, with school officials.

“Café Conversations” have been held the past two months, bringing together some two dozen locals each time for a discussion about challenges to the public schools and possible solutions.

Both forums have been characterized as “constructive” without “finger pointing” and solely “solution-oriented.”

“The primary goal of these (roundtables) … is to give members of the community the opportunity to express their views and ask questions about the public education system,” said Sheria Griffin, executive director of the Gulf County Education Association.

“The best part is watching participants drum up solutions that the community is willing to participate in orchestrating (to fruition).”

Last week, Griffin made a presentation to school board members and followed the presentation up by email.

During the meeting, there was not a word of comment from school board members, though Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said the ideas were better broached with him in private prior to being passed to the board.

Board member Billy Quinn, Jr., echoed those comments, saying the proposals should be broached with Norton initially.

By bringing a “litany” of issues before the board Griffin and the union was “circumventing the collective bargaining process,” Norton wrote in a follow-up email.

In the email to Griffin, Norton said the first proposal was not one he could endorse.

The proposal was to establish a whiteboard or bulletin board at each school as a “Shout Out” or “Kudos” board for teachers and employees.

The effort, at no cost to the district, would entail the union providing the whiteboard and supplies, with the board there for students or faculty to post a hurrah or positive comment about another teacher or school employee.

An email would inform board members and school employees of the comments posted.

Griffin emphasized the proposal was simple and had come from the community.

In his response, Norton said morale at each school was “important” but added that the principals had the pulse of their schools and how to promote and recognize employee achievements.

In addition, Norton said each school site already had a bulletin board for use by GCEA and if the union wished to use a portion of those boards for the proposed effort, “feel free to do so.”

But, he added, he would not assign additional responsibilities to any staff members to maintain the board or disburse electronically its contents.

The second proposal to emerge from the roundtables concerned vocational programs and the union’s interest in taking on any role in seeing more vocational options in the district’s curriculum.

The union proposed to partner with CareerSource Gulf Coast and the school district to craft and distribute an online survey for students pertaining to vocational options and needs.

In addition, Griffin offered that the union would assist in printing flyers to promote the survey and assist in aggregating the results of the survey for presentation to the board.

Further, she asked that the union be allowed to participate in the process of creating and implementing future vocational courses.

Norton responded that the input from students and parents regarding curriculum is “always … welcomed” and that students and parents are surveyed annually, their suggestions “given due consideration.”

Annual needs assessments are provided to students, parents and teachers.

Another survey was redundant, he added.

Norton also noted that the district is currently working to expand vocational options, including bringing welding to Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, where carpentry and MOS certification programs already exist.

The district is also seeking Triumph Gulf Coast grant funding to establish a culinary arts program in Port St. Joe and expanding agriculture-based programs in Wewahitchka.

“As a small district we can be very proud of the variety of vocational opportunities provided our students,” Norton wrote.