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?

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