On Monday I met with Carol Rava-Treat and Holly Ferguson for about an hour to talk about the Strategic Plan. They are both very confident that this Plan will be implemented and that it will yield positive results. They expect success. Now, these are both sober, intelligent people with critical reasoning skills. They are not delusional, or star-struck, or cheerleaders. I told them that I wanted to share their confidence, but that I've already seen any number of plans or goals sit idle and fail and that I couldn't see how this plan was different.
They explained three fundamental differences that distinguish this plan from previous plans. These three differences, taken together, will bridge the gap and make this plan successful.
The first difference is leadership. There is a very different sort of person in charge of the District now than we saw there last year. The whole first half of the CACIEE report, distilled to its essence said: "The Superintendent isn’t doing his job." The Strategic Plan, distilled to its essence says: "The Superintendent is going to do her job." While the previous administration feel it had neither the authority nor the duty to intervene with struggling schools or struggling students, this administration sees that as one of its primary duties. Just as the hands-off style of leadership – if it could be called that – of the previous administration echoed all the way down the chain of command, the new style of leadership – measure the baseline, set expectations, provide needed support, measure the results, hold people accountable – will also echo down the chain of command.
Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson are confident that the plan will be implemented and the goals met, in part due to their confidence in the new District leadership, including the Superintendent, the COO, the CAO, and others.
The second difference is the introduction of structured processes. They see great power in the selection of a few areas of focus. They told me that, unlike in previous plans, people have been assigned responsibility for the implementation. More than that, these people have been provided with training in project management – which they never had before.
Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson are confident that the plan will be implemented and the goals met, in part due to their confidence in the power of the assigned responsibility to project leaders and the training provided to these project leaders.
Finally, the real Achilles heel of past plans has always been that there has been no requirement that anyone actually implement the plan. No accountability. Cooperation has always been entirely voluntary. There have been no consequences for failing to implement, no one even checking for implementation, no accountability at all. The District has declared their intent to align curriculum before, but without success. Aligning curriculum requires the teachers to teach the curriculum, but there was no one to monitor whether they were teaching it, and no consequences for the teachers if they did not. The third difference that gives Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson confidence in the plan is the introduction of "effective" performance evaluations. The performance evaluation process is already in place and has been for years, but people have not used them or the process. Going forward, these evaluations will be done, will be followed up, and will be monitored. That is the work of management.
Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson are confident that the plan will be implemented and the goals met, in part due to their confidence that this leadership team will do their supervision work and see this work done by the layers of management below them.
I heard what they were saying and I heard the conviction in their voices, but I wasn't convinced.
They say that this leadership is different, more ready to intervene on behalf of district-wide stated goals and policies, but I told them that I hadn't seen it. I didn't see this leadership get involved when Roosevelt High School decided to bar 10th grade students from taking AP European History – a clear step backward in rigor in direct opposition to the District's talk. I didn't see anything different in the way this leadership team made their program placement decisions, no greater exercise of central authority there. I didn't see the new leadership step in and intervene at any struggling school this year. I didn't see any District-level intervention initiatives for struggling students this year.
They say that the processes are going to be different, that they will be followed, but despite the fact that EVERYONE admitted and agreed that the community engagement around the Denny-Sealth project was inadequate, this District leadership chose to move forward with the project anyway. What process were they following if they could ignore admitted inadequacies? Someone has been assigned to manage the Southeast Initiative project, but it is unraveling, wandering off focus, and spinning out of control.
They say that this leadership team demands accountability, but where are the highly touted accountability elements of the Southeast Initiative? Nowhere. If they could not implement accountability elements in this high profile situation, why should I believe that they can implement accountability elements in the scattered and shadowing corners of the District?
I think Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson were candid with me about what had not been done and what has not been done well. They essentially acknowledged that events moved forward before the team and structures were in place to implement the "new style" of management. The Southeast Initiative was, initially, managed in the old style. Only recently has it become more aligned with the new style of management. That alignment is not yet complete. But from here on, they profess, things will be consistent with the new way that the District is managed.
They didn't ask me to be convinced. They asked me to watch the progress. They will have milestones (one of their milestones is to set the milestones by the Fall). Watch to see if they meet the milestones. Watch to see if they don't actually implement. They know that there is no evidence that I can see yet that could give me the confidence they have. They ask me to look for that evidence, however, in the Fall, and in the Winter as the various plans are developed and implemented.