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Posts Tagged ‘Administrative Leadership’

Sanity Prevails in Florida Dismissal of Holocaust Denying HS Principal… BUT…

July 14, 2019 Leave a comment

I read a NYTimes account of the dismissal of a Boca Raton HS Principal with a sense of relief… but also a sense of bewilderment. According to an article by Sarah Mervosh, William Latson, the Principal of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Fla., wrote in an email exchange with an unidentified parent in April 2018 that:

…the school offered an assembly and courses on the Holocaust, but that they were optional and could not be “forced upon” all students.

I can imagine that an irate Holocaust denying parent writing an email to a Principal complaining about an elective course offering and, perhaps, a school-wide assembly on the topic… and I can see where a Principal’s appeasing response might be taken out of context as evidence that his personal equivocation on the issue. What I found astounding was what followed:

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Mr. Latson wrote, making a distinction between his personal beliefs about the Holocaust and his role as the leader of a public school. “I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly. I do the same with information about slavery.”

I cannot fathom how anyone “…can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” and then justify such a stance based upon his status as a “…school district employee”. Then, in case the reader has any doubts about Mr. Latson’s wisdom, depth of knowledge of history, or political savvy, he indicates that he not only allows students and parents to make up their own facts about the Holocaust, he invites them to do the same thing with slavery!

Thankfully, the citizens of Boca Raton did not take kindly to Mr. Latson’s thinking and the school district did the right thing:

The comments set off an intense backlash in South Florida, which has a significant Jewish population and has among the highest concentrations of Holocaust survivors in the world. Thousands signed an online petition calling for Mr. Latson’s resignation, and on Monday, the Palm Beach County school district announced that he would be stripped of his position as principal and reassigned to another job in the district.

In response to the rise in anti-Semitism in the state, the Florida legislature has mandated instruction on the Holocaust in order to ensure that every student who graduates from Florida schools is aware of the horrific genocide that occurred in World War II. The Palm Beach County School Board Chair, Frank A. Barbieri Jr., emphasized that the district’s curriculum exceeds what is required by the state mandate.

“Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind,” he said. “It is only through high-quality education, and thought-provoking conversations, that history won’t repeat itself.”

And leaders in the Jewish community also weighed in:

Mr. Levin, of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, said that the Holocaust should be treated like other undebatable facts throughout history, from the Roman Empire to the Revolutionary War to slavery.

“We simply don’t let educators pick and choose what is a philosophical debate and what is not,” he said, adding: “There is no way to be politically correct about the Holocaust. It is a fact of life.

It IS a fact of life… like climate change, like the need for vaccines, like many inconvenient facts of history and science. When the day comes that we get to choose facts democracy dies.

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“Thin Contracts”: The Way Forward for Charter Schools AND Unions

June 5, 2019 Comments off

Forbes contributing writer Talia Milgrom-Elcott offers a way forward for charter schools and unions, a way that would provide charter schools with a stable workforce by offering teachers in those schools the basic benefits unions provide: decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. Here’s Ms. Milgrom-Elcott’s opening paragraphs that describe how this might work:

I am part of a growing contingent: a supporter of unions, public schools and public charter schools. This is no easy alliance. Unionizing charter schools can make both parties anxious – even though charters were first conceived by Al Shanker, the then-president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Many charter schools have delivered powerful results for students by focusing on children first. And unions have staked out the teacher-happiness terrain, focusing on satisfaction, retention and job quality. Why have we forced a choice: unions or charter schools; children-first or teacher-first? Personally, I have come to see these dichotomies as false, because students will only thrive in schools where adults are also thriving.

Companies with disgruntled staff don’t make good widgets. How can we expect unhappy teachers to shape thriving humans? As Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, shared in a recent piece in The Atlantic: “As charters go from infancy to adolescence, those who want to succeed for the long haul have to have a stable, vibrant teaching force, and that stable, vibrant teaching force wants a voice and agency.”

Later in the article, Ms. Milgrom-Elcott answers the question she posed above regarding the mental models in place that result in a forced choice between charters and unions:

We can’t ignore the animosity that has long characterized the relationship between charter schools and unions. Charter schools have made explicit structural decisions to side-step some of the more onerous restrictions of traditional teachers’ union contracts, and unions have derogated charter schools’ intentions, in turn.

Ms. Milgrom-Elcott offers a workaround used by several charter chains who have accepted unionization: a “thin contract”. She uses Green Dot’s collective bargaining agreement as an example:

…Green Dot Public Schools, a network of charter schools where in California they are serving about 11,000 students in communities across Greater Los Angeles – (has) unionized teachers and staff have a central role in the organization.

“We want to be agents of transformation in public education, so we have to live and breathe the same context as our peers,” said Chad Soleo, the national CEO of Green Dot. “Ultimately, we want to make sure that our reforms and the lessons we’ve learned in public education are completely replicable in any union setting.

Partnering with an organized workforce has evolved into much more, says Soleo.

“Our educators buy in wholeheartedly to the values of collective decision-making, collaborative leadership, and organized labor,” he said. “In practice, they wanted a different flavor than the status quo.”

Green Dot’s “thin” contract, negotiated in Los Angeles with their unions, both affiliates of the California Teachers Association – itself a joint affiliate of the AFT and NEA, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions – leaves room for flexibility by both the school administration and teachers to remain responsive to student needs. Organized charter schools have typically worked with unions to create these more streamlined contracts specific to the needs of each school community.

I can see “thin” contracts being a benefit to unions as well as charter schools. Many “mature” contracts I worked with near the end of my career incorporated detailed regulations on the length and structure of classes that arguably hampered the ability of teachers to innovate and often included arcane provisions on leaves that taxpayer groups would quote to illustrate how easy teachers have it. These regulations and provisions often emerged because of a controversy in one school caused by a single incident that led to language being added to ensure that an outlying practice was not repeated. The result was an increasingly thick and complicated contract. From the union’s perspective changing any of the language was perceived as an erosion of protection or benefits, making it difficult to strip away language that was no longer needed even if current practices made the language superfluous. Language changes regarding the time frames for the issuance of report cards, drafted when they were done by pencil-and-paper instead of computers, were often viewed as “concessions” instead of “clarifications” making relationships between unions and school boards contentious. In order to make contracts skinnier and more flexible, a requirement in this day and age of technology, both sides need to abandon their win-lose mentality and find “a different flavor” than the status quo.

Ms. Milgrom-Olcott’s closing paragraphs an apt closing paragraph for this post as well:

We’re at a critical juncture in this country, one that requires courageous leadership. Persistent economic inequality and lack of social mobility threaten the fabric of our nation and the health of our democracy. Public charter schools want to combat this. To fully live into that mission, their boards, leaders, teachers, and communities should embrace unionization and negotiate the details with unions. Charter school leaders have an opportunity to reignite their schools as engines of economic mobility and robust democratic participation for their communities. The American Dream might well depend on it.

How to “Bully-proof” Your Child? Teach Them the Serenity Prayer

May 30, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading a NYTimes article by Estelle Erasmus titled “How to Bully-Proof Your Child“. The bottom line answer is provided by child psychologist Izzy Kalman who suggests that if a child is bullied they should “...treat the person insulting you as a friend rather than an enemy, and not to get defensive or upset.” The article offers several examples of how to apply Dr. Kalman’s principles, including this one:

The Reflexive Response

“I didn’t. Tessa is a liar!”

“No, she’s not!

“She is! I didn’t cheat!”

“Everyone knows it’s true.”

“It’s not true!”

Mr. Kalman’s Approach:

“Really? Do you believe it?”

“No.”

“Good.”

Or, if the answer is “Yes”:

O.K. If you want to believe it, how can I stop you?”

“You can’t. So I’m going to tell everyone you cheated. And you can’t stop me.”

“That’s right. I can’t.”

After reading this example, I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer ascribed to Reinhold Niebuhr:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In dealing with the false accusation, the bullied individual is acting on this prayer: They accept the thing they can’t change— the accuser’s beliefs— have the courage to stand up to the accusation— but ultimately accede to the accusation because they see that changing the accuser’s mind is an impossibility.

From my experience, all bullying can be resisted in this fashion. A bullied individual cannot change the behavior of the bully on their own and they cannot change the bullying incident itself. The bullied individual, then, needs to have the wisdom to decide whether to seek the intervention of someone who CAN change things or to continue accepting the bullying.

Ms. Erasmus’ elaboration of Dr. Kalman’s theories reinforce the notion that the Serenity Prayer might be applicable across-the-board, as my italicized notes indicate:

Instead of having adults act like law enforcement officers against bullying, Mr. Kalman advises teaching children the following four facts:

1) The real reason they are being picked on is that they get upset when they are picked on. (i.e. they are not accepting what they cannot change) 

2) They have been making themselves upset. (i.e. if they ACCEPT what they cannot change they will not make themselves upset) 

3) Fighting back and acting defensive fuels the bullying. (i.e. IF they accept what they cannot change it will diminish the bullying behavior— in this case courage IS acceptance) 

4) By not getting upset, the child wins, and gets the bullies to stop.

“The way to reduce bullying is to not punish kids for exercising their freedom of speech,” Mr. Kalman said. Teaching children that everyone is allowed to speak freely removes much of the power of the bullying and enables children to be their own advocates.

Bullying has been going on for decades… and trying to stop it by developing elaborate rules and protocols can be self-defeating. I’m with Dr. Kalman on this issue:

Mr. Kalman explained that when we punish kids for using certain words, it teaches them that words are very harmful. And when an adult punishes a child for saying something hurtful, it magnifies hostilities and takes the solution for fixing the issue out of the child’s hands.

Nobody can guarantee their children a life without difficulties. If you protect your children from the social challenges of life, it weakens them,” he said.

Denver Administration “Accidentally” Sends Letter Threatening Deportation of Striking Teachers

January 27, 2019 Comments off

I try not to be cynical about school administrators, but the latest news from Denver Public Schools who are on the verge of a strike test my credulity.

Here’s a quick overview of what is going on: on the heels of a successful strike in Los Angeles that reinforced the public’s support for public school teachers and antipathy toward charter schools, the Denver teachers decided to strike. But at the 11th hour the Denver School Board invited the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to intervene which, in accordance with state laws, postponed the strike. At the same time as the school board was ostensibly striving to find a middle ground, the Denver Superintendent sent out a memo to administrators imploring them to cross the picket lines. Then, in the coup de gras, her HR department issued a memo indicating that any undocumented teachers who participated in the walk out would be reported to ICE.

In response to the memo, according to Chalkbeat the newly appointed Superintendent offered an apology, stating “…she was shocked the evening before to learn that a district human resources employee had sent an email to schools on Tuesday that said immigrant teachers working in Denver Public Schools on visas would be reported to immigration authorities if they participated in an impending teacher strike.”

Following the school board’s last minute and arguably disingenuous effort to reach a settlement and her administrations admitted effort to recruit administrative staff to cross picket lines, her apology seemed hollow at best and dishonest at worst…. especially given that “…No employees were put on leave as a result of the email”. The Chalkbeat report did indicate, though, that the Superintended DID say that “…the district is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again” but “...did not elaborate on what they are.” 

I do not envy the effort the new Superintendent will have to make to dig herself out of the hole the Board has put her in… but I cannot believe that her decision to look the other way when a key HR staff member threatens to report teachers to immigration officials will help. All of this underscores the fact that teachers only join unions to protect themselves from unenlightened boards and administrators….

 

As Congress Cut Staffers and Leaned on Lobbyists, So Did State Departments

January 19, 2019 Comments off

Diane Ravtich wrote a post yesterday that drew heavily from a Washington Post column by a veteran congressman who was lamenting the gutting of congressional staffers who used to provide both sides of the aisle with factual reports on information and data they could use to make informed decisions and write well crafted legislation. The Congressman noted that as they lost this resource, the private sector filled in with lobbyists who could “helpfully” write legislation and regulations. The result was the de facto privatization of legislation.

As I noted in a comment I left, in a parallel universe, beginning in the late 1970s State Departments of Education began hemorrhaging expertise in the same way. When I began my career as a Superintendent it was possible to call someone in the State Department who could offer guidance on an array of issues from staff development to transportation to school construction to curriculum. While many of us in administration and many school boards lamented the “bureaucrats in the State Department”, it wasn’t until they were cut from the State budget and/or retired that we began to realize what we missed. One of the reasons the Common Core was appealing to Governors was that it provided off-the-shelf “expertise” from contractors. So instead of having to hire staff who understood curriculum, the districts could call a 1-800 number and talk to someone who worked for a vendor to get the information they needed. The ultimate result of State Department cuts, then, was an open door for the Common Core vendors to replace the “bureaucrats at the State Department”.

Smaller school districts in particular need expertise in many areas… and if that expertise is not available at the State level they will outsource it elsewhere. Cutting “bureaucrats” opens the door for privatization of expertise… and lobbyists and salespersons are very happy to offer it.

Helicopter Parents Stymied by Administrators in Darien, CT

November 29, 2018 Comments off

Today’s Boston Globe features an AP article by Michael Melia describing a problem faced by Darien CT: over-protective parents joining their children for lunch!

In Darien, a town of Colonial-style homes behind stone fences where the median household income exceeds $200,000, so many parents had begun attending lunch that principals felt they were affecting the day-to-day running of the elementary schools, according to Tara Ochman, chairman of the Darien Board of Education.

The decision by the Board had a mixed reception:

One Darien mother, Beth Lane, said at an education board meeting last month that she welcomed the change.

“It was good because kids have to be able to learn how to work with each other and socialize with each other, and putting a parent in changes the dynamic dramatically,” she said.

But others who spoke up at the meeting said the midday visits allowed them to see how their children were faring and to help them resolve friction with other children. For the youngest children, they could offer helping opening milk cartons and finding items in the lunchrooms.

Terry Steadman, a parent, told the board she was shocked and driven to tears by the news.

“To just ban parents from the lunchroom, which is effectively what you’re doing with this email, I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s in the spirit of a collaborative environment,” she said.

As the article notes, this is a “problem” that could only be encountered in a school district where stay-at-home mothers are prevalent, stay-at-home mothers with the time and energy to visit their children at lunch. In a couple of throwaway paragraphs Mr. Melia dismisses this as a situation where parents are disengaged and a spokesperson for a county district in FL sees it as something that “MAYBE” some parents can’t do.

The practice is unheard of in many urban and poor areas where parents may not have the same engagement with schools.

“In some schools it’s not really an issue at all because based on the population, parents aren’t able to come and have lunch. It’s something maybe parents aren’t able to do,” said Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman for schools in Hillsborough County, Florida.

I have news for Mr. Melia and Ms. Arja: there are a whole host of parents who are “disengaged” because they need to be ready to work when their workplace demands it and they cannot predict whether they’d be available for parent conferences let alone lunch.

The Darien parents may think their visits are helpful, but ultimately, a special education therapist at a school in nearby (and equally affluent) Weston CT  has it right:

“From a professional perspective, when we’re the ones left dealing with your child when you leave, it wasn’t good,” said Ms.Franzese, who worked for eight years as a special education therapist in Weston until earlier this year. “We would call them helicopter moms.”

In short, kindergartners are better off opening milk cartons and putting on their leggings than having mom there to help them. It might teach them the “grit” that school reformers see as the essential element poorer kids need to get ahead.

The Sad Reality: Students Returning to “Hardened” Schools

August 12, 2018 1 comment

Here’s the headline in today’s NYTimes headline article by Patrick Mazzei:

Back-to-School Shopping for Districts: Armed Guards, Cameras and Metal Detectors

The article describes the sad reality of public education’s reaction to school shootings:

  • We are investing millions on armed guards who monitor children and FAR too little on staff members who could provide support to teachers and parents when students become disengaged and depressed.
  • We are using precious and limited staff development time to train teachers on how to use tourniquets instead of how to identify and deal with students who are disengaged and depressed.
  • We are redoubling the lockdown drill training, increasing the frequency and “reality” of school shooting drills that increase anxiety and fear among students.
  • We are spending millions of limited dollars to acquire fences, sophisticated surveillance cameras, and metal detectors while roofs leak, many schools lack the technology infrastructure needed to prepare students for the future, and many teachers dig ever deeper in their pockets to provide students with school supplies.
  • We are seeking more funds from taxpayers for these expenditures at a time when spending for education overall has decreased in real dollars since the Great Recession… and decreased substantially in many states.
  • And in 10 states, districts will be debating the feasibility of arming classroom teachers… a debate that will use precious time at school board meetings, time that could be used to debate other means of dealing with student alienation and despair that leads to the school shootings.

I completely understand the urgent need to “do something”… but I am distressed that the “something” seldom addresses the root causes of student violence, which have little to do with “arms control” or “hardening” schools and more to do with making schools warm and welcoming to each and every student enrolled. I hope in the days ahead to read of a district who is taking steps in THAT direction!  I despair that we are creating schools that make 24/7 surveillance in fenced environments patrolled by armed guards the norm for our future citizens.