What's Up with Michael?

I hadn't had time to write about the Executive Committee meeting last week but it ties in nicely with a recent article in the Seattle Weekly about why Dr. Enfield is leaving.

I noticed that after the election, Michael DeBell really seemed down.  I can understand; Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier were not just colleagues but friends.  But he is an elected official and election change comes with the territory.

Then, scant weeks into terms of Peaslee and McLaren, I was hearing that he was unhappy.  That he thought that some members of the Board (who shall remain nameless) were asking too many "micromanaging" questions of Enfield.  It's unclear to me whether it was asking too many questions or asking questions that stepped into Enfield's realm of action.

Then Enfield said she was leaving, said it had nothing to do with the election results but would not say anything else.

But it is clear from Michael's actions recently that he is struggling with not only losing Peter and Steve but now Dr. Enfield.  He has made it very clear he doesn't want her to leave.  I'm pretty sure he has told her privately to let him know what might make her stay.

So the Weekly article first where he is quite blunt (and unlike him, publicly so):

DeBell admitted that micro-managing is a problem at the district and that Enfield was unhappy with it.

He says he's not at liberty to discuss details, and the superintendent herself has been tight-lipped about her reasons for going. 

But DeBell elaborates a little when he talks about "individual" board members trying to influence the superintendent and other staff members, rather than going through the "public" process of introducing a proposal and having it voted on. 

Putting himself in the superintendent's shoes, he says: "If you just step back and consider seven different bosses all potentially going different and conflicting directions, it's really an impossible situation." 

Yes, that would be a bad situation but I know the Board to be professional people who would NOT all be trying to sway staff.  I think some of the issue how is how often the Board asks questions/volume of versus what they are asking.

But you do need to step back and look at it from the Board's POV.  They have one staff person who does research for them (and she reports to a district administrator, not the Board).  If they have questions, it might occur to them to ask them at a committee meeting or work session (where you'd think it would be okay).

Then there was the discussion around Board Policy 1620 at the Executive Committee meeting that is crucial to this discussion and crucial to how the Board and the next superintendent interact.

The members of the Executive Committee are Kay Smith-Blum, Michael DeBell and Betty Patu.  Michael is the Chair.  Also in attendance were Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee.

At the beginning of the meeting as they went over the agenda, Kay asked for this item to be pulled because there was so much to go over and they had a full agenda.  Then there ensued quite the polite tug-of-war.  Michael said they had staff there to go over it and should continue.  Betty backed Kay up and said it really was a serious policy that needed a lot of time.  Michael said it was the 5th draft (but obviously probably only the lst draft that either Marty or Sharon had ever seen).  Kay said it wasn't part of their work plan for the year.  Michael said the committee was where this work took place.  Betty said okay, if you feel strongly, let's do this.

So they then went thru a few items first.

They did talk about waivers and Betty had staff confirm that schools with waivers must pay for their own materials.  Holly Ferguson said they must be able to identify their funding source(s).    Marty asked if they could facilitate use of the waiver such that if a program has already been piloted at one school, that a new school could just use the first school's template.   There was some discussion over whether this was a superintendent procedure or Board policy.  Michael said those issues could be further discussed "downstream."  It seems that Kay, Betty, Marty and Sharon are hoping the Board will consider an appeal process for schools if the Superintendent says no to a waiver.

Then they got to the policy.  Michael explained that he was exercising his right as a Board member to make suggestions for Board procedures.  He said none of the work came from staff and he worked on it over the winter break but he did have help from Erin and Holly.

He said he was trying to accomplish some guidelines for Board and staff to improve the "boundary" between governance and management.  He said it was based on his years of experience.

He said the governance of the Board "isn't affected in any way."  He said the Board can visit any school and ask staff questions.  He said it was to help staff give the best answers possible.

  He said there was a lack of clarity about the "ideal relationship" and what best practices could/should be.  He said they do not have individual power for governance.

He said because of the cuts at central administration and lack of staff, there is language about Board asking staff for work.

(My aside here is that I get that but the Board has to do ITS work as well and the Board are elected officials.  It's their job to make sure they have the best information possible to make decisions.)

Michael was clear about adopting the procedures at this meeting.  He said because they are in a leadership transition and would like to attract the best possible candidates.  He said there is an awareness of this issue in every district.

Then Dr. Enfield chimed in with what I thought was a telling statement.  She said that some candidates for superintendent have their working relationship with a school board defined in their contract.

Really?  Look, if someone looks our district over (as we look him or her over) and read the Board policies and gets upset, then probably he or she is not the person for our district.  If a candidate demands specific language in their contract about how he or she will work with the Board, then maybe he or she is not the person for our district.

Dr Enfield left at this point. 

Just as Michael does not want the Board to change its policies every time there is an election (he referenced this), it is then equally fair to say that we don't need a new set of rules every time we get a new superintendent.

Now unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay as they hashed it all out.  (The Times' Brian Rosenthal told me the meeting went an hour over its scheduled time.)  But what I heard in the beginning made me feel good about the elected officials in the room.

Fun fact that I didn't know about Marty McLaren.  She has lived in a communal group situation for years.  And, because of that, she has a LOT of experience in learning how to communicate and find consensus.  During this meeting, she showed that.

She spoke up, saying she offered a new perspective and was a big believer in positive, constructive language.  (And I have to say that the language in the sheet before me was much more of a blunt instrument, again, odd coming from the Michael DeBell that I know.)

Kay expressed the concern that this was a policy " that will guide everything we do."

Michael replied that "I own the language and am comfortable with changing the language but I am wedded to the basic goals."

Betty also chimed in about how serious this particular policy was to their work.  She did not want to rush through it.   Michael conceded that it was very important and that they may have to schedule more time.  But he also said something that I had some disagreement with. He said that Harium and Sherry both have full-time jobs and time is of the issue.

Okay, BUT they chose to be on the Board.  If it is impossible to be on the Board and work full-time, then your choice is not to be on the Board.  Because of the almost volunteer nature of the job, of course, all the Board has to be sensitive to each other's time but it does not negate that they have a job to do that may require time and careful thought.

Michael also referenced Don McAdams (who has served as a consultant to the Board and I'm not sure I get why) and that Mr. McAdams wanted even stronger language.

So they got started working, line by line.  As I said, I didn't stay for the entire thing but what I did hear were Board members expressing their thoughts and concerns and then listening to what other Board members had to say.  It was a beautiful thing. 

One thing I appreciated hearing was Sharon Peaslee stressing that it should be about how the Board can advocate for maximum effectiveness rather than what they shouldn't be doing.

Kay had a great point where she advocated for language like "the Board and Superintendent will work together as a cohesive unit in the spirit of collaboration."  That's a lot friendlier language than drawing strong lines.

Michael also did point out a fact that most don't know (or want to forget).  The law gives all authority to the Board.  For example, the RCW about School Boards allows them to hire principals.  Michael pointed out in small districts, their boards do just that but with larger, urban district that has shifted to superintendents.

The staff listened attentively and Ron English, district counsel, offered some good suggestions for wording.  However, there was some body language from some staff that suggested some concern about the wording being decided on.

This policy was scheduled to be introduced at the Board meeting on January 18 but will now but introduced on Jan. 25.  I did ask for an electronic copy and will link it as soon as I receive it.


Anonymous said…
But DeBell elaborates a little when he talks about "individual" board members trying to influence the superintendent and other staff members, rather than going through the "public" process of introducing a proposal and having it voted on.

Given the disclosed Jon Bridge email, I think this statement smacks of hypocrisy. I'd rather have the elected Board's "influence" than Bridge's.

Anonymous said…
Is it just me? Or is this entire article an expose of the board beating around the bush instead of stating particulars. There's a reason beneath each policy proposal, and I get the feeling there are particular steps, actions and desires that are being kept quiet, until procedures are adopted, which three years on, we'll all be asking, "who approved that?"

There's something very fishy about this posturing, staff body language, etc. What is the issue and why? What do staff have have up their sleeves?

Call me a conspiracy nut, but this just reeks of people trying to get carte blanch authorization from the board to do as they please. Otherwise, why the fuss? What is really going on here? Any particulars or "for examples?" If all the cards were on the table, would we still see this dance? Trust? Transparency? WTH? WSDWG
Chris S. said…
OK, Mr. DeBell, cut the "micromanaging" crap. Did you hear the voters? Did you hear that maybe the former majority seemed to be not even managing in a macro way? I agree there's a happy medium, and we're not going to find it if you establishment types go whining to the press about "micromanagement" every time someone asks a difficult question.

I wasn't around during the time before you when board members supposedly thrashed staff and made them "feel bad." BUT I have been to enough board and committee meetings to know that if staff cut the time they spent obfuscating and stalling (how much of this comes from above is not clear), they would have much more time for research and finding authentic answers to authentic questions.
Anonymous said…
I have often wondered why many of the readers on this blog have given DeBell a pass for so long,
as in "the Michael I know" wouldn't say such and such.

Well, the Michael we know by actions and not words is a wimpy rubber stamper. Sure, he stood up during the math debacle, but otherwise, he has been a spineless follower who speaks eloquently and in a therapeutic voice but shamelessly follows the money (didn't he get a lot of campaign money from Gates?).

He continues to be a wimp because he is reaching out to people like David at Crosscut to manifest his grief that his two middle aged frat brothers weren't reelected . and the homecoming queen has decided not to apply for the permanent job.

Birds of a feather flock together. A person's character can be quickly defined by the company he keeps--Sunquist, Maier, Carr and Enfield are like the yuppie posse--and are right in DeBell's comfort zone.

Time to see "Michael" as he is--a passive aggressive follower who is now in the uncomfortable position of leader, and is mad as hell that he has to be in charge. It's easier to blame everyone else (the democratic electorate and staff) for his uncomfortable feelings that are making the place in his back tingle uncomfortably.

--enough already
mirmac1 said…
It was obvious to me that McLaren was the retired schoolteacher. Her suggesteed language was much clearer, more eloquent and well-written.

It pains me to see our Board rolling over and playing dead because they want to get scratched on the tummy.
Anonymous said…
Well said "enough already."

The type of oversight DeBell wants brought us Pottergate.

I am ready for some fresh eyes on this policy stuff and some hard questions asked!

Anonymous said…
more desperation from the sinking ship called DeBell's Comfort Zone:


--enough already
Anonymous said…
From the editorial:

"One board member reportedly ordered Enfield to fire some employees."

Did this really happen?

"At a recent retreat, another raised the idea of the board approving principal hires."

Isn't the idea behind these retreats to generate ideas? Doesn't mean everything said will become policy.

Are these the best examples that indicate that the board wants to micromanage? And are part of the reasons Enfield is leaving town?

Anonymous said…
Yesterday we had anti-new-board drivel from Crosscut.com's main editor David Brewster. Yesterday evening we had the same from Stand on Children's Jordan Royer. He got his piece onto both The Seattle Times AND Crosscut. Score! And that leaves room for, of course, the Seattle Times editorial page, aka Lynne Varner. Yes, an editorial was just published, and "shockingly" with the exact same theme as the others. Leave the poor superintendent and staff alone. Don't micromanage. Blahblahblah. Finger shake. Civic tantrum.

Boy, I would love to sit these people down in front of any of the state auditor reports and force them to write the findings on the chalkboard 100 times.

That's a funny picture in my mind.

But watching the Powers Behind the Throne - corporate ed reform and downtown business egos - attempt throw their weight around via an overt press campaign isn't funny. Not funny at all. Makes for queasy stomach and clenched teeth.

grousefinder said…
This is bullying to leverage (after my snark read the crux):

The Seattle Times and Crosscut (and DeBell?) appear to be on a bullying streak. McLaren and Peaslee did nothing but attend class and ask good questions since school started. I guess that makes them obvious targets. Good girls bullied by toughies.

However, bullying is grounds for suspension after the third strike in most schools. I would say it's time for a trip to the Principal's office. Who is the Principal in this case you ask? Well that would be us. Time to let these three know that we do not tolerate bullies in school. Write Mr. DeBell, The Times, and Crosscut. Tell them to cut the bullying.

On the other hand, this could be a leveraging move against McLaren since she needs relief for the overcrowded school situation in West Seattle. In other words, DeBell is saying, 'If you want my vote to open another school (and get your six million to do so) then you back off on questioning MY decisions.' The vote for West Seattle relief was supposed to be last Wednesday. It was postponed due to snow.

Who is pressuring DeBell?
Coe girl said…
Two words have always explained every reason for every position Michael has ever had:

Don Nielsen

With that, ditto, all of the above.
dan dempsey said…
DeBell elaborates a little when he talks about "individual" board members trying to influence the superintendent and other staff members, rather than going through the "public" process of introducing a proposal and having it voted on.

Oh yeah what a great "public process" ... where the "public" gets publicly ignored.

As long as four members of the ruling oligarchy will vote for the proposal ... evidence can be ignored, school board policies can be ignored, and state laws can be violated. ..... ... WOW!!! who would defend that?
Charlie Mas said…
I wish Director DeBell would speak more plainly. His procedure claims to be a clarification but it makes me more confused than I was before.

A) The procedure makes reference to "governance tools". What the heck is a governance tool?

B) The procedure seems to suggest that the Board is prohibited from exercising those governance tools outside of the superintendent's annual evaluation.

C) I appreciate that this proposed procedure tries to keep the Board from poaching on the superintendent's side of the governance/management line.

D) How about equally strong language that keeps the superintendent from poaching on the Board's side of the governance/management line?

E) How about some clear statement that the Board has the duty to enforce policy?

F) How about some clear language that non-compliance with policy is grounds for dismissal - for the superintendent or any other district staff?

G) How about some clear language that failure to fulfill any other directive approved by a majority vote of the Board is grounds for dismissal?

The proposed procedure needs some balance. As written it only constrains the board and only diminishes their authority.
Anonymous said…
This "We need to keep Enfield" song that's being covered everywhere in the media makes me want play Marvin Gaye's, Inner City Blues, over and over:

"...Makes me wanna holler, the way they do my life...Makes me wanna holler, throw up both my hands..."

Susan Enfield has made a real difference in the classroom?...Give me a break.

If one thinks TFA in our classrooms will solve, "the achievement gap," if you think her handling of the Martin Floe firing/rehiring was a brilliant stroke of listening and valuing community input, if you think MAP is the most brilliant assessment tool since IQ tests for predicting adult success, if you think giving downtown management new titles and new raises will increase the quality of supervisors' performances, if you think transfering Bree Dessault to the SE region schools as an effective tool for "struggling" SE schools...then one's support of Enfield makes logical sense.

Otherwise, from my point of view in the classroom, Susan Enfield is a "Happy Face" pasted on the Maria Goodloe-Johnson icon representing EdDeform.

ken berry, SpEdIA Van Asselt@AAA
Anonymous said…
For years Michael and others have lamented how bloggers and outspoken critics "hurt" the district's reputation by speaking out, and then he and the insider elites go on this public smear campaign of Marty and Sharon?

Hello Pot; it's Kettle calling.

What a load. Get through the seven stages and grow a pair already. WSDWG
mirmac1 said…

Yer killin' me! LMFAO!
mirmac1 said…
I say to DeBelle and his fellow business giants - how 'bout you open your kimono and show us what we're working with here. Sounds to me like the recent cold weather has had a deleterious "Constanza" effect.

I'm getting so mad I could just SPIT! I regret supporting your re-election to the president's spot, DeBelle. How DARE you try to lecture your equals. I say stand back and let the estrogen take over. Don't mess with a menopausal woman...
Ed said…

Yer killin' me! LMFAO!

Careful, you'll get us thrown outta here.
mirmac1 said…
Sorry Ed, I have to watch my dirty acronyms...
mirmac1 said…
...and Seinfeld references.

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