What is it Going to Take?

In a recent thread about the culture of lawlessness, I wrote a comment that said, in part:
"In the end, though, it will still come down to someone in the District leadership insisting on compliance with the law, regulations, policy, and the District's stated values. All it takes is one person."
But what would it really take to foster a culture of compliance to replace the culture of lawlessness? Could just one Board member do anything? Would it require a Board majority? What would they have to do?
Let's begin with the idea that it would only take one person to make a change in the District's culture.

That's pretty clearly true if the person were the superintendent. In fact, that would be my hiring criteria for the next superintendent. My top question for any candidate would be: "We have a culture of lawlessness that we want replaced by a culture of compliance. Can you and will you implement that culture change?"

The potential effectiveness of a single Board member is a bigger question. Could a single Board member do anything or can individual Board members do nothing without a Board majority behind them? What - if anything - do I think a single Director could do?

Let's say that there is a policy that is getting violated. That's not hard to say since there are literally dozens of policies that are routinely violated. Let's pick just one to use as an example. Policy 2090, Program Evaluation &Assessment calls for an annual report. Here's what the policy says:
"The Superintendent shall prepare an annual report which reflects the degree to which district goals and objectives related to the instructional program have been accomplished."
That's pretty simple language. It's clear and straightforward. Yet the annual report produced by the Superintendent doesn't speak to instructional programs at all. It doesn't even mention them. Couldn't a Board Director, after giving the Superintendent sufficient warning and in a perfectly professional and collegial way, direct the superintendent to produce a report that meets the requirements of the policy?

Ah, but it takes a majority vote of the Board to direct the superintendent to take an action, doesn't it? Yes. It does. And that majority vote of the Board was secured when the Board voted to approve the policy, the policy which directs the superintendent to make the report. That policy was approved by a majority vote of the Board. That's what a policy is: a majority vote of the Board directing the superintendent once and for all time.

Let's also remember Policy 1640, Responsibilities & Authority of the Superintendent, which says:
"The Superintendent shall:
  1. Be the Chief Executive Officer of the school district.
  2. Carry out and ensure compliance with all policies of the Board of Directors through administrative procedures.
  3. Consistent with Board policies, take appropriate administrative action.
  4. Recommend adoption of new policies and revision or elimination of outdated policies.
  5. Provide professional leadership for the educational program of the schools, formulating necessary developments in policies governing curriculum and instruction and presenting them to the Board for its consideration.
  6. Develop a system for evaluating the academic performance of the district and presenting it to the Board for its consideration.
  7. Regularly report to the Board all aspects of the district’s educational program."
It is the Superintendent's job to "carry out and ensure compliance with all policies of the Board of Directors". Moreover, numbers 6 and 7 there look a lot like Policy 2090. What possible excuse could he have for failing to meet the requirements of that policy?

So I ask again: couldn't a single Board Director tell the Superintendent to comply with the policy?

Honestly I have a hard time imagining the other side of that conversation. What could the Superintendent say? Could he claim that the policy is unclear in its requirements? It isn't. It's perfectly clear. Anyway, he could always ask for a clarification from the Board - which he did not do - or he could fulfill his duty (see #4 above) to recommend a change in the policy. In short, the Superintendent's only possible refusal to a direction to meet the requirements of the policy would be something like "Nyah nyah nyah. I ain't gonna do it and you can't make me." Seems kinda childish, doesn't it? And yet this was Dr. Enfield's response to the Board when she was asked to meet the requirements of  a policy that required her to describe her program placement process. She flat out told them that she refused to follow to the policy. They slunk away with their tails between their legs and abdicated all authority to oversee her ever again.

What if the Superintendent claimed that only a majority vote of the Board could direct him to take the action required by the policy? Never mind that, as I have mentioned, a policy itself represents a majority vote of the Board directing him to take the action. Wouldn't such a claim by the Superintendent be interesting. That would be the Superintendent daring the Board Director to put a motion on the agenda to direct the Superintendent to comply with a policy. He would be telling them to either go public or go away. He would be inviting this Board to do as the Sundquist-DeBell board did, and abdicate their authority to oversee him. Or they could go public with the direction by putting it on the agenda for a Board meeting. Would the Superintendent really want that to happen? I would love to hear the discussion around that motion. Who would argue against it, and what could that argument be? Wouldn't such a motion be essentially guaranteed to pass?

There are those who say that such a direct and public conflict would damage Board-Superintendent relations, but how can you break something that is already broken? How else would you describe a relationship in which the Superintendent refuses to follow policy?

For my part, I would like to see what would happen if a Board Director acting alone, in a professional and collegial way, reminded the Superintendent of a policy and requested compliance with it. For example, wouldn't it be nice if a Board Director requested the annual report required by the Sexual Harassment policy, 3208, the annual report required by policy 2090, or a report that includes the required elements listed in policy 2200? Wouldn't it be great if a Board Director requested compliance with policy C54.00 and directed the Superintendent to involve the community as a full partner in the selection of principals for Option Schools? Let's remember that the Superintendent only recommends candidates for principal positions, the Board appoints them. The Board can stop a principal appointment if the recommendation isn't compliant with policy.

Historically the Board has not taken these steps because they fear a public airing of the Superintendent's non-compliance with policy. That's too bad. In every case, I would welcome a public discussion of the Superintendent's non-compliance with policy. That's what will bring the needed change. The Superintendent's bullying of the Board Directors will not survive the bright light of public attention. The Director seeking compliance wouldn't have to make any argument at all. It would be sufficient to read the policy and ask why the Superintendent refuses to comply and which members of the Board support non-compliance. If the policy is no good, then the solution is to either repeal it, amend it, or suspend it, not to violate it.


Greg said…
Excellent article, Charlie.
Anonymous said…
So let's pick one and make an issue of it. A coordinated effort/campaign to get the district to enforce one policy could lead to others. Which one?

- Squeaky Wheel
Charlie Mas said…
If I could choose one policy for the district to start following it would be policy 2090, Program Evaluation. The ccentral office needs to start doing the job of assessing the quality and efficacy of our academic programs. That should, in fact, be one of their primary roles, but they don't do it at all.
Good thoughts, Charlie, and we have a prime example already going.

First, however, I'll just point out that MANY directors have individually pointed out policies to senior staff - this is thru the last 10+ years - only to get a shrug from the senior staff AND no follow-up by the Board member (or back-up from other Board members).

I can't give a specific policy example now but here's something from the Work Session on Preschool (separate thread to follow).

At the end, President Carr, in clear and firm terms, told the City (here represented by CC Burgess and head of Ed Holly Miller) that the portion of the Implementation Plan that included having the district's Enrollment office handle enrollment for any City preschool in SPS buildings would HAVE to be paid for by the City.

Director Blanford also echoed this idea, saying that he would get questioned by his constituents about spending on pre-K when his elected duty was K-12.

Ms. Miller quickly said, yes, yes, we understand.

So I've heard President Carr use this kind of tough language before only to see her crumble/backpedal when the situation then does arise. She only occasionally digs her heels in and says no. (And it's a crapshoot trying to figure out when she will).

In short, there is no consistency to when the Board will do what they say they will do.

Which brings me to the last Board meeting where Director Martin-Morris expressed unhappiness with the amendment brought before the Board about SBAC.

He was fairly huffy about the late timing and that, somehow, it violated the Code of Conduct that they all were voting on. He pretty much called her out and used the dreaded word "governance."

I think there were two issues. The motion got to the agenda w/o the authors pre-warning the other Board members. Given that Director Patu - one of the sponsors - had just had her husband die and it was last-minute, I would give Peters and Patu a pass. (They did send an e-mail but it was the night before the meeting.)

The other issue is whether they could even do this. Of course they could do it and it has been done before. (It is irritating when Board members conveniently forgot the last time THEY put something on at the last minute.)

So Charlie, I think it likely and problematic for one Board member to go it alone. I always say being on the Board is a team sport and your job is to find compromise and consensus.

The single person who could make the difference is the superintendent. I think Nyland is a qualified person but all I see him doing is what I would call "surface work" - meaning he's around and visible but it's unclear what is actually getting done. And his "aw shucks" grin is getting old especially when he's talking about serious issues.

Sigh said…
There is no reason to believe that the superintendent would answer to a single Director. The superintendent answering to a committee is another story.

We can also look at the lawlessness related to the legislature throwing too many initiatives at the district. The state requires xx amount of instructional hours, but wants the district to pull kids out of class for xx amount of tests.
Free Speech said…
I do see an independent voice or two on the board.

The resolution to discuss concerns related to ELL, Sp. ed and SBAC, IMO, was an attempt to bring this issue into the public light- and we all know that the district does not address issues.

I applaud the director that created the SBAC resolution. It is important to note that the SBAC resolution was created as "Introduction" item only. The board had two weeks to discuss this issue.

It will be interesting to follow this issue.
Watching said…
"The ccentral office needs to start doing the job of assessing the quality and efficacy of our academic programs"


The Strategic Plan forsakes popular programs. I wish I had time to find exact language for you.

The district's focus is on Common Core and prek.
Greg said…
I'm not sure it's accurate to say this has been tried. While it is true that many directors have individually pointed out policies to staff, they don't follow up publicly and repeatedly when nothing is done afterward.

I think what Charlie is saying is pick a policy, like 2090, point out that it requires a report that evaluates the degree to which the goals of instructional programs have been accomplished, and then repeatedly and publicly ask for that report, over and over again, rejecting attempts by staff to offer incomplete reports that don't actually do that, again and again, week after week, loudly and publicly.

I've never seen a Board member do that. It's not clear why not. It would take a little effort and a willingness to endure a little conflict in order to make the right thing happen, but that's something you would expect a good Board member to be willing to do. And it does seem likely that it would be effective, doesn't it?
Anonymous said…
Change is hard. Typically, a step change in organizational culture is driven by an external shock that threatens the organization in its current form that forces constituents of the current system to accept change. In the corporate world, examples would be bankruptcy, rise of a significnt competitor, etc.. In the governmental world, it might be war, fiscal crisis, etc.

I just don't see our school district changing its culture significantly. Why would it? The bloated adminstration is incented to protect itself. The other stakeholders (parents, students, state and local governments, interest groups) are highly fragmented with differing and often conflicting interests.

To drive change in Seattle schools, the following are needed:
1. A significant threat to the status quo
2. A majority of the stakeholders perceiving the threat as real and significant
3. A majority of the stakeholders lining up to support a preferred alternative to the status quo.

Even if we could use this thread to identify #1, I think the Seattle community is not prepared for #2 and #3.

Eric B said…
I think one director could make a difference if they were the committee chair, particularly C&I. The chair can tell staff that items will not be passed in committee and on to the full Board until the reports required by X policy are complete.

Otherwise, they would be depending on staff having a sense of shame when the director asks in a meeting "We are supposed to have the reports required by policy XXXX annually. How are we to provide proper governance if you don't give us the information we need as required by policy?" Of course, this would be preceded by a collegial request for the past due report or information to complete a report so that nobody can claim they're blindsided by the request.
Patrick said…
Yes, it does require a majority of the board to take action if a superintendent is not following policy. The actions all ultimately require a majority -- disallowing part of a bonus or firing. Yes, an individual board member could embarrass the super publicly but it would not be team spirited to do so and immediately obvious as a useless gesture.

As long as the senior staff and a majority of the board don't feel the policies are worth making a big deal about, they will continue to be unenforced.

Greenwoody said…
There are a number of tools that can be used, many of which currently sit on the shelf.

The biggest ones involve priorities driven by the staff. If the staff have been unresponsive to directives from the board, why should the board approve a separate request from the staff? Make it clear to staff that they don't get any new toys or projects until they've addressed existing problems.

Budgets are another place where the board has a lot of power. They could eliminate positions of unresponsive staffers, slash funding to staff priorities, things like that.

I also wonder if it is possible to set up new policies and procedures that require board confirmation of other senior level staff appointments/hires.

Basically, while it would be nice if we had a system where a board member asks for something and they get it immediately, there are ways to deal with an unresponsive staff even in a situation like we have with SPS. It just requires a board that is willing to make the effective, responsive operation of the district a priority.
Anonymous said…
I don't know...I think there's some ultimate value in continuing to ask for proof of adherence to a specific policy.

Politely. Repeatedly.

Sooner or later, someone's going to realize that this particular squeaky wheel isn't going to go away or be pacified by "we're working on it" or whatever the excuses might be.

Earl said…
I'd say give kids time to eat lunch like policy says.
Again, I have said - for years - what many say here.

What directors should say is
"I cannot vote for this item..."

because of

- does not meet policy requirements


- I have not been given the information that I requested in order to make an informed decision.

Period. Then, they vote no.

Where is the courage to do that?
Anonymous said…
I understand the point, Charlie and all, but I think the example given isn't all that persuasive. It reminds me of the 10 year Campaign to End Homelessness. All who breathe know it failed, mostly because it promised the impossible. Yet, try to get anyone to admit it failed, even though the homeless population has increased a third or more in 10 years. You can't. (And please folks, realize I'm not targeting homeless folks here, but rather, the leaders of the failed campaign.)

If people can't or won't admit basic facts, what do you expect of their subjective, self-interested judgments on whether they are in compliance or not, whether programs are working or not, whether goals are being met, or not. The homeless example provides a perfect example of how public and private leaders will do anything to avoid admitting the obvious. And given any discretion on the matter? A lost cause.

I think the initial problem is that we simply have too many policies to be acted upon or enforced. Too many rules ruins the effectiveness of each and leads to selective enforcement and prosecution (if you will). And that's the problem I've seen in SPS over the years. There is so much they'll never get to, on account of so many promises to do better, the culture of hopelessness, fatalism, forgetfulness, and "we tried our best" is what rules the building. How many times have we heard "I'll get back to you" as an excuse or get-out-of-jail-free card (or away from the podium at least)? And who ever follows up? The virtually unpaid board, during their free time?

I dunno Charlie. While I agree with your otherwise valid point, I don't think it does much in the end to harp on it. And I don't mean to let staff off the hook. But I do think policies are taken too lightly, if not ignored, because the current number are impossible and unrealistic to comply with. We need a host of changes to make things better, and I think streamlining policies is the first place to start.

Anonymous said…
And I should say that, like with Standardized Testing, the more time and effort we invest into measuring what's been done, the less time we invest in actually getting things done. I don't want to make the same mistake the Ed Reform crowd makes by displacing real progress with all this supposed "accountability measurement." The potential for that always exists when we elevate outcomes over process, even though both are relevant. WSDWG
Charlie Mas said…
I've had some communication with folks about this idea and they have reminded me of times when individual board members did try to enforce policies without success. At those times the staff plainly acknowledged that the policies were not followed, but the majority of board members simply didn't care and had no interest in enforcement. The director who did want to enforce the policy quickly discovered that the board had no mechanism for enforcing policy. None. There is no procedure for it at all. There are no steps for them to take. They are left with little more than asking, nicely, for the staff to comply. The staff simply declines.

These reminders bring me to the conclusion that it will, in fact, take a majority of board members with an interest in policy enforcement to to do the job. We need four of them.

I believe that we currently have two.

Four board directors will be elected this year. Get in front of candidates and ask them what they will do to address the culture of lawlessness. Ask them not IF they will enforce policies but HOW they will enforce policies. Tell them about policy 2090 and ask them what they will do. Get it on the record.

Lord knows we have had a parade of board candidates who promised to "hold the superintendent and staff accountable" but once elected they quickly abandoned that idea entirely.

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