Monday, June 23, 2014

Seattle Schools and Leadership: What the Fundamental Problem Is

Charlie wrote this elsewhere and it absolutely reflects what I believe.  (Emphasis mine and this is partial.)

The Board and the staff have a fundamental disagreement on the role of the Board. The staff believes that the Board should function as a rubber stamp. They don't believe that the Board has anything positive to add at all and should just show up twice a month to approve whatever is placed before them. The less they talk about it the better. These things don't stand up well under discussion - even friendly discussion.

The Board, on the other hand, thinks that they have a duty to make policy and oversee management. Funny, right? So the Board occasionally - rarely, to tell the truth - takes a break from floating with the current and sticks an oar in the water. They suggest something. Something like having a transparent program placement process, actually conducting performance evaluations, keeping track of the money, or setting school start times that work for students. You can review the past several years' of "Board Priorities" for a complete list.

The staff reacts to these signs of life with the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, but without ever actually doing the work that the Board asks them to do. How could they possibly do any of that silly work when they are so busy with the same implementation that they have been trying to make (under a variety of names) for over a decade now?

It was called Standards-based Learning System, "the same high quality instruction at every school", Fidelity of Implementation, Equitable Access, and now MTSS. It doesn't matter what they call it, they can't get it to happen. And they are trying in every way they know.


The only way this ridiculous dysfunction can be fixed is for a new superintendent to come in and fix it. 


A superintendent who understands administration and management of a company of professionals.

A superintendent who understands that you have to allow people to participate in the development of an idea if you want their buy-in. 

A superintendent who will articulate a narrow mission for the central administration so they aren't wasting their time on pet projects that don't advance the mission, so they actually can address themselves to the mission, and so they can eliminate the excess payroll in the JSCEE that doesn't support schools, teachers, and students.

I will add a couple of things.


Whenever we have this situation of a new superintendent, we hear a lot about "trust."  I have to say that in all my years, I have not seen a lot of trust coming from staff to the Board.  Or rather, I don't see a lot of belief in the abilities of the Board or understanding (and support) of their role.

The Superintendent leads the staff team BUT he is answerable to the Board.  It's a balancing act for sure but if he/she gets the policies/priorities from the Board and then, turns around and enacts them, it can work.

We can have a whole other thread about the search. But, to start, the Board needs to make clear to candidates that the Board is in charge of priorities.  The Superintendent is in charge of enacting those priorities.

The staff tag-team campaign at the last Board retreat is an example of a Superintendent allowing staff to set the tone for meetings.  The Board retreats?  See that word "board" in there?  It's THEIR retreat.  Work Sessions?  It's to explain and illuminate the work staff is doing, not to give an overly long presentation so that there is little time for the Board to do their oversight.

As well, some of what was said at the the retreat, by staff, was unacceptable in terms of Board/staff relations.  The staff cannot dictate to elected officials how much information is "too much" or set some minimum amount of information requests.   They can give guidelines and perhaps have one person who does that work but they cannot limit what the Board's oversight.  In fact, this all points to the need for a person who works for and is accountable to the Board for information about various issues.

Maybe we don't need a second principal coach.  All the Executive Directors now make over $143K a year (with one making $146K).  I have a list of 112 people who got raises last year.   Most of the raises are "market adjustments" or "job title reclassification."   I know these people work hard but so does everyone else in the district (for the most part in any big organization). 

Every single time we say, "Things need to change."  Again, I say, "Things need to change." 

Or as Moss-Adams said in their report, if you don't change the culture of a bureaucracy, you change nothing.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

For me it has been 9 years participating in this system. It astounds me that in this city, with the brains, money, and passion that we have that the school system in the way it is. The entire systems needs to be wiped put and then started a new. The system is supposed to be about educating children but it really is about creating/maintaining jobs for adults. Our three kids are finally done in this system and I am relieved to be done with it. It is quite a mess and I a m positive it will only continue to bump along. Good luck people.

-New pastures

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 7:39 said that the board is dysfunctional. Can you clarify what they are doing that is dysfunctional?

I think that administrative staff is dysfunctional. They have no idea what is going on in the buildings. Teachers & principals just try to stay out of their way. I think an example of the inspiring march toward Level 4 determination of special ed over the last several administrations demonstrates that we can't leave the superintendents unchallenged.

-hs parent

Charlie Mas said...

Theoretically we don't have to wait for the superintendent to address the dysfunction. I suppose it is possible for the Board to also take the control that it should and do its duty to demand compliance with policy, demand higher quality work, demand a focus on priorities, and demand engagement with stakeholders, but I simply hold out no hope for that.

Too many members of the Board are convinced that the staff is right about their role. Cheryl Chow, when she was on the Board, actually said as much. She scolded her Board colleagues saying that they not only had no business voted down staff recommendations, but that they had no business even questioning those recommendations.

Harium Martin-Morris also scolded his colleagues for trying to independently verify statements made by staff. He told them that they should accept all staff statements as true - even if they discover that the statements are not true.

I have yet to see a single Board member ever ask Mr. Tolley for any of the information that he has promised them. They ask him a question, he says "I'll have to get back to with that. I'll put it in the Friday memo." Then, when it isn't in the Friday memo the Board never asks for it. This contributes to the belief that the Board didn't really need the information and that they were just making work for staff. So no wonder the staff believes that. In fact, the Board did want the information but didn't want to disgrace the staff by telling the world that they didn't fulfill their commitment.

I had a glimmer of hope earlier this year when a Board member put an item on the C & I committee agenda to talk to staff about the inadequacy of their program evaluation report - except that when the item came up for discussion the Board Directors didn't do it. They asked "Why didn't the program evaluation report have any program evaluations?" Michael Tolley responded "You get program evaluation reports when they come out, not all at once." "What about the programs that aren't evaluated?" "Well of course you don't get reports on those - they aren't evaluated." "Oh. Okay."

So, sorry, but I no longer hold out any hope that the Board will get up on its hind legs and reform the District. It will have to wait until a new superintendent comes in and does it.

Eric B said...

I was pleasantly surprised at the last Board meeting by the level of questions from the Board to the staff. On several items, there was a "Is this the best use of limited resources" discussion. It was cordial but definitely firm.

Anonymous said...

Huh. I was having this same thought when reading those emails re: the pre-k that mirmac posted. Ms Peters asks Mr. Herndon a facility related question - he says he can't speak to that - she says who can and no one ever answers. All I could think was, gee Mr. Herndon, passive aggressive much? Because to me what he was really saying was not "I can't speak to that" but "I won't speak to that".
Which is an entirely different thing. And something I suspect happens waaaaay more between the Board and staff then we can even begin to grasp.
I gotta say, I'm not someone who tolerates that kind of behavior for very long. I suspect I'd be the first person the Seattle Times publically harangued for "micromanaging". But seriously, in the absence of a strong Supt., someone needs to be in charge!
I truly think we need a management type, not an educator, because SPS is a multimillion business whose rudder is seriously warped. As a "shareholder", I'm ready to stage a revolt ;o)

reader47

Anonymous said...

Banda. I'm gonna do nothing for a year, because other supes did bad stuff and I don't wanna do more bad stuff. Then, I'm gonna look for another job with a high salary. My contribution? Well, I hired a bunch of minimally qualified manager. Who know? They may pan out one day. It doesn't really matter, because lots of people can get good at doing nothing as I have.

!?!#$$$!$$$!!! Seriously. This guy had a three year contract. At a minimum, he should remunerate the district for the expenses associated with hiring him, since he is breaking his contract.

Reader 48

Charlie Mas said...

I think that the central administration would bristle at the charge that they work in service to the perpetuation of their bureaucracy. They would claim - I suspect - that they are working in support of schools, teachers, classrooms and students.

But I have to wonder how they think they can do that without any input from those schools, teachers, classrooms and students. Why don't the schools, teachers, classrooms and students feel they are supported by the central administration instead of hindered by it?

It's funny, because when the central administration wants support they want to direct that support. When parents say they want to support the district, the district invariably wants that support to come in the form of agreement with whatever the district has decided to do. So why doesn't their support for schools, teachers, classrooms and students come in the same form - helping them to do what they have decided to do?

I ask this sincerely: if you truly believe that you're supporting them, why don't they feel like you're supporting them? Why do they feel like you're interfering with them - when they feel your presence at all?

Anglew Methew said...

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