Friday, April 8, 2011

Being a School Leader For All Children

It has been another interesting week for educators in NYS. The Chancellor of the New York City Schools resigned her job after three months. The Commissioner of Education in NYS resigned his job after one year. And, public school leaders around the country are trying to get budgets developed and passed.

Yes, it has been another fun week as a 21st Century School Leader!

The theme of all of these resignations resonates most clearly when Richard D. Kahlenberg,  a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of "All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools Through Public School Choice," frames an interesting perspective that has long been used to criticize our public school leaders. He suggests “ it may be time to set aside two prevailing biases in the education reform community: that non-educators with strong management skills should be brought in to fix the “mess” that educators have made; and that the rigor of private sector experience will inevitably trump the skills of those toiling in the public sector.” (Kahlenberg (April 8, 2011). NYTimes). Or how about the following point by Neal McCluskey,associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute and the author of "Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples and Compromises American Education." :“There is a huge difference between running a business and running a school district, and it points to what is arguably public schooling’s most crippling flaw: in business, you don’t need public consensus to get things done. In something run by democratic government, you do.” (McCluskey (April 8, 2011) NYTImes).

After a long few months of trying to bridge a previously thought impossible budget gap, reducing teachers, administrators, and reworking collective bargaining agreements, to see these events and read these articles was quite a treat. Business people and higher education types cannot lead any better than those of us that have been managing these situations for quite awhile.

The same can be said about the higher education demogogues that assume posts such as the Commissioner of Education” or “Secretary of Education. In higher education, everything is “pie in the sky” or “ivory tower” goals and objectives, when the current reality of our economic times are derailing these lofty projects, and the children in public schools get punished for these mistakes.

I had one person in particular barrage me with constant email that our teachers make too much money, that the district bargained away all of the money, that we are not taking the conditions of the community into consideration when making decisions, we need to consult with “business types” in the community to do this work, and  despite all of our efforts to create balanced budgets, achieve concessions, and renegotiate agreements, it wasn’t good enough. Then, it hit me that people like these critics in our district have never managed a $ 90 million dollar budget in their organizations. They don’t have the number of employees that I have in my district, and they haven’t the slightest experience negotiating a collective bargaining agreement such as the contracts that are under my domain. These self-proclaimed “business” types would be lost in the world of public education.

Unfortunately, as school leaders we need to navigate the waters of irresponsible government behaviors and appointments. We do this by committing to the following:
1) School leaders need to be transparent about their decisions and goals.
2) School leaders need to keep the program intact, but with a balanced budget that supports the district’s ability to maintain faculty and staff, as best as possible.
3) School leaders need to facilitate open and honest relationships with union leaders and employees.
4) School leaders need to listen to the community.

I am sure Ms. Black and Dr. Steiner have excellent track records of accomplishments in their fields of endeavors. Let’s put responsible people with a focus on children in these positions before we lose another child to a government leader’s lofty promises.

What do you think?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hippocratic Oath for a School Leader

The Hippocratic Oath is an oath historically taken by doctors swearing to practice medicine ethically. It is widely believed to have been written by Hippocrates, often regarded as the father of western medicine. The Hippocratic Oath (orkos) is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. It requires a new physician to swear upon a number of healing gods that he will uphold a number of professional ethical standards. Sounds like something every professional that has something to do for people should take.

Unfortunately, a school leader must make difficult decisions and many times is attacked by many people for these critical points. So, will diverse groups of people respect the job a school leader does, knowing they take an oath such as an "educational Hippocratic Oath?" Probably not. An oath is a personal commitment for excellence, based on ethical guidelines and standards. To be valid, the oath a person takes really only matters to the person taking it, becoming a personal commitment and a guiding light in a perilous journey to guarantee a quality educational experience for each and every child.

Last week was one of the most difficult time periods I have had in my role as a school superintendent. To sum it up, I  closed an elementary school due to declining enrollment, proposed a reduction in work force to the tune of 
$ 1,000,000, negotiated agreements with all of our bargaining units and district employees to freeze their salaries next year, performed two superintendent hearings with kids from troubled homes, and to top it off I decided to retire.

Over the past few years I learned that no matter what the decision a leader makes, someone gets upset with you, In fact one day half of the people are mad at you, while the other half of the crowd takes the day off and gets upset with you tomorrow! And I am sure no one cares that you took a personal oath to be ethical and guided by high ideals. 

But, ethical standards and high ideals are what drives anyone to become a school leader. And, chances are those standards and ideals focus on kids, and the reasons we all work in a school. So, here is my version of what a school leader's Hippocratic oath should be. Let me know what you think:

I swear to fulfill to the best of my ability and judgment this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won leadership gains of those leaders in whose step I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as well as mine to those who follow after me.

I will apply, for the benefit of my employees, community, and society, all measures that are required, avoiding those twin traps of control and absence of leadership.

I will remember that there is art to leadership as well as science, and that compassion, courage, and understanding employees’ ideas may outweigh the logic of student achievement data or strategic growth.

I will not be ashamed to say “ I don’t know,” nor will I fail to call upon experts when their skills are needed for student, employee and organizational success.

I recognize that my experiences create biases that limit my perspective; therefore, I will cultivate a culture of inquiry amongst my peers to invite others to help me see possibilities beyond my viewpoint.

I will respect the needs of my students to grow as human beings, and do what I can to support their development in ways that help them better contribute to the organization and society.

I will respect the privacy of my students, faculty, administrators and support staff..  I will do what I can to support their needs for learning, work and life.

I will respect the need to support the growth and transformation of my school district. Most especially I must tread with care in matters of ethics and integrity.  If it is given to me to “save the life” of my school district I must call upon the two and act accordingly with all stakeholders.  It may also be within my power to terminate employees; this awesome responsibility must be faced with humanity, humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.  Above all, I must not put myself before others.

I will prevent “organizational disease” whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to “cures.”  I will remember that I remain a member of the school-community and of society, with special obligations to my fellow colleagues, those who report to me as well as those who work and live nearby.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter.  May I always act so as to preserve the finest actions and ways of being a school superintendent and may I long experience the joy of being a school leader.