Going Backwards?!?

They say that the old stuff is new again. Wood paneling on walls. Deviled eggs. One teacher for all subjects in middle school.

Just kidding…or am I?

About once every two months I’m fortunate enough to still meet at a local diner with stakeholders from a former district. Great food, wifi, and, yes, a room in the back where we can eat, drink, and be merry. Our “dinner club” consists of teachers, parents, retirees, employees, and even some current and former elected officials. We should really call ourselves the dirty dozen; our table is rather messy by the time we are done.

We do have one rule at this gathering; NO SHOP TALK. Meaning, I don’t want to get into current practices, gossip, or local politics. We’ve been good for almost a year, and then we slipped. A parent lashed out about a logistical change. A change back to something that was pretty cool to do between the inception of public school to about the 1960’s, lingered on until the late 80’s, and was all but dead when everyone realized how detrimental such a concept is given our world today.

When a parent brought it up, I choked on my food. Surely this couldn’t be. Yet it was. All I could do was shake my head and sigh. Those poor kids, being set up for failure. All of the hard work and buy-in, all of the long meetings, all of the anger, for what? All gone.

As disappointing as it was to hear and sad to see that students will go back into a pattern of remediation the following year to catch them up to where they are supposed to be, I was very quick to switch gears. “Oh, well,” I quipped.

“Oh, well?” the parent bit back. “That’s all that you can say?” She was legitimately annoyed and expressed to the table that her kid was getting screwed in the process. The parent felt this was being done not out of student benefit, but out of bitter political spite. “They are literally going through a checklist of accomplishments that were made under your watch and are undoing them. You changed this for the better and now we are going backwards in every way.”

I said, “Oh, well,” again.

She began to cry. I pulled her over to the side and said very simply that there is nothing I can do about it. The board of education sets the polices and philosophies, writes the paychecks, and has control over one person–the superintendent. If a board changes multiple times and new leadership is elected, the board goes on a different path; the board itself changes every time a person leaves or comes on. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

That being said, if the board directs the superintendent to go in a certain direction, the superintendent will most likely do it if he/she needs a job. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. Most people have families, mouths to feed, and bills to pay. Some superintendents can take the rogue and/or lazy route if they have other things lined up where their families are taken care of and so on. But if the Superintendent needs a job, well the Superintendent is most likely going to listen to the bosses. Thankfully, Superintendents don’t have tenure.

In the meantime, you can and are allowed to disagree.  That’s healthy and democratic, but please be supportive in a way so that your child can grow, learn, and move forward. Politicizing, witch hunts, and fishing expeditions don’t do anything but create stress amongst a myriad of stakeholders and waste money. There is no need to put you or your child through that. In all seriousness, if things were that bad, the teacher, leadership, or board member(s) wouldn’t be there; they’d be in jail.

One last point I told the mom to consider–wait until the standardized scores come out. When you look at one set of data of what was good for kids versus implementing something that isn’t, you’ll see it, clear as day, guaranteed. You’ll compare it to other state reports, and you’ll be able to make a clear path and argument that what was in place versus going backwards for future years will explode in the board’s face. Surely, they will try to spin it and place blame on something or someone (one time I was even blamed for potholes, on public record!), but the real truth will get out, and now you have a case to run for the board yourself.

I’m looking forward to our next gathering. Diner food is…well…a Jersey thing!


Scheduling: stop, collaborate, and listen.

image credit: charlesandhudson.com 
Yes, I, along with every other 6th grader, knew Vanilla Ice and could most likely still rap his songs today.  While I never thought I would be referencing his lyrics (except for the lesson I used to do on plagiarism), some came to mind when I recently sat down with a scheduling committee in my current district.

A few months back, at a BOE meeting, I announced a myriad of changes for realigning the upcoming 16-17 school year, one of which was a complete revamping of the elementary school that feeds into the middle school.  In addition to all of the other changes I announced, I proposed a schedule and then found myself two steps away from being burned at the stake.  Folks wanted a committee which was formed the next day by the administrator overseeing the building.

I wanted to stay out as much as I could.  This committee was not my decision; it was the building administrator’s.  The team met and established several goals to be implemented into the schedule.  They came up with some ideas, I gave the administrators some input, and a schedule was made.  When it was presented at the next board meeting, it was met with another round of boos.  Afterwards, one of the parents came up to me and said, “You are hearing us, but you are not listening.”  That was a very powerful statement.

Two days later I called the entire committee together and gave some parameters which were conducive to the requests that parents and teachers were making.  Once I gave them the feedback from the BOE meeting, I simply said, “Get to work.”  They did, and they did well.


This new schedule will be presented at the next BOE meeting, and I am hoping it will meet an easier crowd.  Mostly, I am hoping it will show off all of the hard work that the committee did.

I stopped; they collaborated; all of us listened.

Don’t Shoot The Enforcer

Superintendents have all kinds of duties. One of the bigger duties is to enforce all policies that are passed by the Board of Education. Let me go on the record right now; it’s not easy, and it’s surely not fun.

For the most part, incidents create policy. While knee-jerk reactions typically don’t become policy, but folks who persistently present a cause tend to have policy implemented over a period of time. In my current district, there is a new wellness policy.

The policy was a result of wellness committee meetings for over two years. From what I understand, it started over concerns brought forth by parents over what was being brought into schools for celebrations and what was being sold in the cafeteria. Many hours of meetings, policy drafts, and commentary later, a policy and regulation was adopted. It was introduced at my first meeting, and adopted at the second. It covers a whole lot, ranging from what is considered foods of “minimal nutritional value” down to when a class celebration can commence. Not that big of a deal…until… 

 Yep… Halloween.

Class parties are in the horizon, and folks started to read the policy. Folks started to ask questions. Lots of questions. Good questions, silly questions… But one thing was clear. Everyone wanted a list of what’s OK and not OK to bring in.

I did a ton of research online (mainly federal  and state websites) on what is good and what is not. I composed a list of around 70 items and a “do not bring” list. I let the board take first crack, then the entire staff. There was tons of great feedback. I then sent it home and also placed it on the district Facebook page. And that’s when the assault started.

Parents were not pleased. I totally understood; it’s very different from when we were in school. I also understood the parents and board members taking the healthy eating & allergies stance. It’s problematic and needs to be addressed. 

The biggest factor for me: it doesn’t matter what I think. It’s not my policy. It is my job, however to enforce the policy that the board adopts. I could love it, I could loathe it, but in the end, my opinion does not matter. 

So, if you come across a policy that you really hate, don’t blame the Superintendent. The superintendent is merely the enforcer of the policy. Don’t blame the parents, don’t blame the board, don’t blame anyone! Rather, do something about it. Your input can certainly influence policy; that’s the beauty of democracy.

Trick or Treat! No tricks here… Just some fresh fruit.