Everyone who reads this blog is familiar with my penchant for inventing stories. I'm not in the district staff meetings when decisions are made. I don't have a source who reports to me about what happens in those meetings. I just hear the (often surprising) results. From the outcome I reverse engineer the story of how this result came about. Some of my favorite blog posts have been these inventions of narrative that are both plausible and fit the facts. I don't know if they are true, but they earn credibility because they work. They do explain the apparently inexplicable.
They also earn credibility because they are never challenged by a more reliable source. My story - completely invented - is the dominant narrative because it has no competition from a narrative from the District. The District never tells their story. They retreat into their fortress and surrender the field to me. On the rare occurance that the District offers any sort of rationale it is weak, confused, dubious, and soon abandoned.
I'm not really happy about this pattern. I would MUCH rather have the real story from the District. Heck, I would even rather have a stronger lie from the District. But this is a weird failing of Seattle Public Schools. They won't tell their story even though it can only help them if they do.
There have been times when the District has over-promised (they almost ALWAYS over-promise), and then under-performed. I have an annoying habit of remembering their promises - they have an annoying habit of forgetting them - and publicly comparing the inadequate outcomes to the ambitious commitment. There have been times when I have spoken with District staff and they have explained to me how they missed their target. They started the project in good faith only to encounter unforeseen and unforeseeable obstacles that prevented them from meeting expectations. It was all perfectly innocent and didn't reflect either incompetence or insincerity. At those times I have said "Oh. Well. Okay then. I get that." Then I ask them: "Why didn't you just say so? Why didn't you just come to people and tell them that you weren't going to meet the target and provide the perfectly valid reason why?"
They don't come forward with problems because they fear criticism. Every parent just jumped ahead to the end of this paragraph, so please be patient while I grind through it for everyone else. Staying silent about the problem doesn't actually evade any criticism because the failure to meet the target will be noticed and they will be criticized. They will, in fact, get extra criticism for not coming forward. Eventually people will notice the broken window and they will ask you how it broke. You cannot evade criticism by silence. On the other hand, if they come forward with the news in advance and explain the unexpected turn of events that caused it, they will probably be treated gently with forgiveness and support. Keeping quiet is an incredibly bad, bad strategy.
There is a long list of unfulfilled commitments from Seattle Public Schools. There are literally hundreds of unkept promises that they have made to various communities. At one time, back when he represented the community instead of Education Reform, Director Martin-Morris collected some of them. He actually went to various District staff and asked them for status reports on the promises. I think he got some answers. Many of them included perfectly sound explanations about why the promise could not be kept. In a lot of cases the answer was just a lack of resources. In a number of cases, the community would forgive the failure if they knew the cause. THIS IS KEY. In the absence of an explanation, the promise appears to have been broken out of insincerity or callousness. Some story is going to fill the void. If the District doesn't offer a story then they can't control which story dominates. The story that does fill the void is likely to be much less friendly to the District than the story they would tell.
Was it Gretzky who said that he doesn't score on 100% of the shots he doesn't take?
So here's where I'm going with this (boy, do I need an editor!):
The District should tell their stories.
The benefits would be legion.
They would build trust
They would reduce criticism
They would win support
They would earn a more understanding community
They would earn buy-in
Their ideas would improve
Their internal accountability would improve
Their culture would improve
Seriously, we would enter a new era of peace, love and Bobby Sherman.
So what can we do to help them make this change? We can offer to tell their story for them.
Somebody needs to get some time with Marni Campbell and get the real story from her about special education. What is the goal with inclusion? What are the obstacles? What is the expectation? What is the real story there? Then that person needs to write it out as a narrative for her since she is clearly incapable of doing it for herself. The narrative has to be true - it has to be real. We need to acknowledge failures or inadequacies. It can include those and still be written from a sympathetic perspective.
Somebody needs to do the same with Bob Vaughan and find out what the heck is the plan in Advanced Learning. And with Mark Teoh to get the real story on the Strategic Plan, with Noel Treat to get the real story on the Ethics situation, with Holly Ferguson to get the real story on the policy revision process, with somebody (not sure who) to get the real story on Teach for America, with the new guys in Facilities to get the real story on capacity management, with Steve Sundquist to get the real story on governance and oversight, and with Cathy Thompson to get the real story on curricular alignment and the Southeast Region. These people need to answer the hard questions that have not yet been answered. It won't be a comfortable process for them, but once they answer the questions - and answer them truthfully and completely - they will never have to run away from those questions again. Those questions will stop. Better, the same people who were plaguing them with questions will step up and offer to help them to overcome their obstacles.
The new era of good feelings isn't the fantasy element of this scenario. The fantasy element, I'm afraid, is the idea that the District staff will ever come out of their fortress and tell their story.