I write and speak about Seattle Public Schools with some authority and credibility due to my long history, experience, and observation of the district. I know what I know and people believe what I write because I have been around and watching closely for over eleven years. But given the rapid and near total turnover of personnel, I don't really know the current players all that well. Given the lack of any kind of institutional continuity, I can't be sure of the procedures. And given those two factors, we should all seriously question the relevance of any history. My expertise is dangerously close to obsolete.
The District has a new superintendent who hasn't even started yet. Wendy London is nearly as new - both to the CAO job (or whatever they are calling it these days) and the district. No one at the "C" level of management has been in that role for as long as a year. Only a couple folks in the next level down on the org chart have been in their role - or at the district - for as long as two years. Just about everyone is either completely new or in a new job. There is such a short list of people with any tenure at all that I suspect we could name them and count them all. There's Tracy Libros, Michael Tolley, Bob Vaughan, Ron English, Holly Ferguson, Karen Kodama, Shep Siegel... any others? The fact is that just about everyone is new and I don't know them very well at all. It's like a McDonalds where you are the senior employee after six months and made the assistant manager if you're still there after nine.
Few district procedures are written and everyone has their own way of doing things. Consequently, the procedures change with every change in personnel. So the rapid and near complete staff turnover has resulted in an equally rapid and nearly complete turnover in procedures. That goes for plans and promises as well. Very little was ever committed to writing, and it wouldn't much matter if it were committed to writing since no one feels very obligated to follow written procedures anyway. Even the vaunted Strategic Plan has been essentially abandoned. Remember when everything the District did had to relate to the Plan, "Excellence for All"? No one evens thinks of it anymore. The Board made the Strategic Plan their central organizing theme - by policy - and now we have none and it doesn't appear to bother them at all. Did Susan Enfield or Cathy Thompson promise you anything? Well forget it. Those promises are void. That includes commitments made to the Board. Not only won't their replacements feel any obligation to fulfill those commitments, they won't even know about them.
So what expertise can I - or anyone - claim when the slate is wiped completely clean every couple of years? There's no point in fighting the ghost of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, you won't find anyone to take up the other side. You might as well complain about things that June Rimmer did - or Horace Mann for that matter. Many of the people who will be in authority in the fall never even met Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, let alone worked for her. Not even Michael DeBell will defend the past. Sherry Carr and Harium Martin-Morris won't even acknowledge that there was a past.
I make this admission for myself, but with the same words I also deny any claims of expertise about Seattle Public Schools by Lynne Varner, Sara Morris, Chris Eide, Chris Korsmo, Liv Finne, Lisa Macfarlane, and anyone else who ever made any claim that they knew or understood Seattle Public Schools. We all have lost our basis for claims of expertise. We are all clueless about the district as of today.
So now what? Now it starts all over again.
Now we take some time to meet and get to know Jose Banda and Wendy London. We talk to Duggan Harman and ask how he will work differently from those who came before him. We check in with Pegi McEvoy and see how her management style manifests itself in the district's operations.
And, I suppose, one thing more. We can encourage them to seize this opportunity to change the District's culture. We can encourage them to document their procedures. Not only for the transparency it will provide in the present but for the continuity it will provide in the future. We can not allow them to use "That's how it has been done" as an excuse for continuing a bad practice.
And, of course, we can refuse to give their promises any value at all.