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!

Onward!

When the Captain sinks the ship

School leaders are often related to boat Captains.  They are charged with navigating the waves of education and dealing with the trade-winds of change. While there will be a mix of rough and calm seas, the Captain typically ends up running a tight ship.

There are all kinds of Captains. There are the Captain Phillips’ and the Captain Quinn’s sailing around the educational seas. It always saddens me when I see a Captain Quinn.

In a matter of years, I’ve watched a Captain go from a Phillips to a Quinn in no time.  The Captain hit a rogue wave and was never able to recover.  After the wave, he tried to put on a new face, laugh things off, and surround himself with a superficial crew.  Epic Fail.  After a series of attempts to try to steer back and gain control, it just got worse and worse.  So sad.  How can central office stand behind such a failure? How can one go form ‘hero’ to ‘zero’ in just a couple of years?

Why? Simple.  Cloaking yourself in the shroud of “Old Boys Club” combined with a group of people a majority of the ship don’t like because of their clique / bully like attitudes and actions leads complete breaking of trust and respect.  The ship is still floating, but you have a crew and passengers that are there just to play school, and the leadership thinking all is OK because the inner circle keeps telling them it’s OK. Oh, and then there’s that whole tenure thing…

Tenure has served as the life preserver to keep those who sink their ship afloat.   So, time old question arises… what does one do with a Captain who sinks their ship? Moreover, what does one do with the crew and the passengers? How long can someone just sit there and let creativity perish?

IF YOU’RE A STUDENT:

I really feel bad for you when your school leader is completely out of touch, doesn’t even know your name, and you even know who he / she is (like you thought they were a sub or something).  The power rests with you; start with a simple petition expressing your concerns.  See the White House website… you can even register one there! Democracy has worked in magical ways…it’s to put what you learned in social studies class to the test. Speak with mom or dad too… they may be just as intrigued about your concerns and may launch actions of their own.  Let’s be clear here…you’re not going into Boston Tea Party mode and causing violence or damage. The pen is truly mightier than the sword.

IF YOU’RE A PARENT:

The best bet is to start by attending local BOE meetings and expressing concern. While the Superintendent will guard his / her own, getting on the official record and partaking in democracy is best.  Speaking to the press would not hurt, as long as you’re cool calm and collect. It is not recommended to go vigilante mode and start writing off-the-cuff comments online or submitting anything to press that would be “slanderous” – facts are facts.  Leave the opinions out; people will form them on their own. If the Captain is failing, state it, you don’t have to lace your opinions in there… everyone will see it.

IF YOU’RE A TEACHER:

You show leadership, and you keep doing your job, for two reasons: 1) you’re there for your students, and 2) you’re filling the void of true leadership, so an educator takes it on their shoulders.

Low and behold, the school will still stand regardless of who runs it.  BUT… since everyone knows the Captain is flawed and is useless the teachers, counselors, parents, and students take charge of their learning and move onward.

But hey, I’m just a Superintendent, what do I know?