How to Hire a Superintendent

According to Suzanne.

In my warped world view, superintendents tend to just jump around district to district.  They stay long enough to have appeared to have done SOMETHING, but not so long that they actually have, thus managing to appear competent. Or at least not incompetent.

I feel like many areas of public life, not enough scrutiny is placed on the person who is going to be leading our students into the future.  In fact, I think that school districts operate a bit like incredibly lucky Exxon Valdezs or Costa Condordias.  We’re just one  catastrophe away from learning our leaders are, for all intents and purposes, drunken cowards who have no clue what leading really means and will feign ignorance at the first real sign of having his/her feet held to the fire.

My solution? Well, since I keep being told it’s the 21st century (like I haven’t figured *THAT* out), I feel we go all social media and Survey Monkey on them.  It seems to me that outgoing superintendents should be mourned.  The whole district community should be saddened at the loss of a true leader, and work towards keeping him/her.  A superintendent’s departure shouldn’t be treated as though it’s no different from being told it’s Tuesday or hot outside.

School districts should be polling potential candidate’s former district asking parents, students, teachers, management, faculty, school board, community members, and all other district employees a series of questions designed to find out WHAT, if anything, that person did during his/her tenure, as well as if they will miss his/her leadership, name five accomplishments or improvements, and name five outstanding issues.  We should be asking about leadership style, accomplishments (BEYOND the job description), visibility, insight, innovation, and community building

It’s surprising to me that in THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY we are still just looking at cover letters, resumes, and letters of recommendation.  There doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive Google search, full review of a candidate’s teaching style and ability, as well as checking out more than the references provided?  Where are our school boards going beyond to actually hire the best people for leading our learning environments?

If it were me, I’d expect the candidate to come in knowing the district, walking me through the plan to maintain or improve, and have a clue as to who the stakeholders are. After all, if they’re only selling themselves that doesn’t help me see what they’re going to do for the district as a whole.

Then after all that, I’d post my top candidates and ask the community to submit follow-up questions, comments, concerns or even “this seems like the best person for the job”.  When we’re talking a QUARTER MILLION dollars and up, we should be getting the best.  Furthermore, let’s treat them they way they feel teachers should be treated.  You get renewed based on the test scores, you’re an “at-will” employee, and raises will be based on evaluations from the classroom.

Until we improve innovation and transparency at our highest levels we will never get the educational system our students deserve.  In other words, stop TELLING me it’s the 21st Century and actually start HIRING like it’s the 21st Century.

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How Much Money?

File this under “take one, pass it on”.

If you know a teacher, have him or her post in the comments how much he/she has spent on school this year or even last year.  I’d love to see how much teachers are adding to the system to “make things better” or “even it up.”  If they are fortunate enough to be at a high-end school where parents use their wealth to guarantee access for their children, how about how much the teacher WOULD have spent were it not for reimbursement from the parents (a hearty thank-you! to all parents for that.)

Also, if you’re a parent who supports the teacher/school, if you could state how much and maybe even what it was for, that would be cool too.  Remember to pass it on so we can find out how many people are TRYING to make a difference in the educational system.

Basically, I want to see how much society is paying out-of-pocket and figure out a different manner of doing that OR even just getting a huge, “We funded our schools!” sign with a dollar amount.  Wouldn’t it be great if school districts published such things?

(PS Cumberland Elementary PTA in Sunnyvale does this with their volunteer hours.  They can show that the parents add, on average, an additional $120,000 in services to the students just by working at the school.  No wonder the school rocks.)

What I Don’t Understand — A Political Rant

Given that the quick statistic I found on Google shows about  1.2 million abortions in the United States per year, and that a quick “how much will my baby cost” look yielded between $9K and $22K per year based on parents’ marital status, income, and housing region, I’m coming up to the cost of raising all the kids the religious right wants born to be THIRTEEN BILLION, TWO HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR (Assuming $11,00 per kid and not counting ongoing cost inflation).  So… Where is this money going to come from?  The parents?  Really?  Why are you bitching about welfare moms if this money is from the families?  So… How are we going to come up with the 264,000,000,000 that will be needed to raise only the FIRST year of those 1.2M kids born until they are 20?

This will get repetitive.  Bear with me or flip to a better blog.

  1. We don’t have enough jobs or infrastructure to handle the people currently living in the United States.  How do you plan to set up the infrastructure to support the children who will surely be born under your birth control ban and making abortion illegal?
  2. NO, REALLY.
  3. If you really want a larger population, I need to know how you’re going to ENSURE that each one makes it under the preamble of the constitution.  You know “provide for the general welfare” cause, dude, we’re trying to create a more perfect union.
  4. I want your education plan. How will you fully fund schools for students, including offering a full education that keeps kids engaged and allows them to enjoy school? More kids equals more schools equals more paid positions equals more chance for failure and more need for “accountability” etc.  Where is this money going to come from?
  5. I want your job plan.  Yes, I know you don’t have a company and can’t actually give jobs.  I want to know how those jobs are going to be created and maintained INSIDE THE UNITED STATES.  Right now most manufacturing and call centers are located in Asia.  Are we going to move these kids to Asia?
  6. Many of these children will be born to young, poor and lower educated mothers.  How will you keep this cycle from perpetuating? As in, how do we make sure we don’t end up spending trillions of dollars in social welfare on children?
  7. Will you raise taxes for welfare programs including WIC, food stamps, housing assistance, and job training?
  8. How are you going to set up a system that maintains this load for the next 50 years?  After all, it’s not the 4-year plan really.  A good president knows to go beyond this.
  9. What about hospital and health care costs?  How will we make sure that these children have adequate health care and don’t end up in emergency rooms?
  10. What will be the role of religion in taking care of these additional children — how will their social welfare programs be set up to assist in the care and upbringing of 1.2 million children per year?

I’m dead serious about this.  If you want more people, great.  However, we already are pissy about paying taxes for “those” people.  I’ve found that “those” people include brown (African or Hispanic), poor (of all colors), and uneducated.  We don’t like “those” people, and we work hard to keep our own kids from interacting with them.  We consider their mothers lazy, on welfare, and merely giving birth because it keeps them from having to get jobs plus it gives them more money per month.

We don’t have a way of dealing with “those’ people right now.  What if 75% of the “unborn” kids end up being “those” kids?  What are you prepared to do to make sure the social infrastructure of America can support them?  ‘Cause right now, we don’t even like “those” kids, and we certainly don’t have any of the above in place for them.

 

Orchids

I really like flowers.  On some level I would love to have fresh flowers every week — something like a dozen roses or Gerbera daisies.  However, it’s really an occasional gift that I give to myself because I just can’t seem to keep this up —  the buying, recutting, arranging, and then disposing is more than I want to commit to.

Then last year I bought a very beautiful orchid plant for our 8th grade promotion.  It looked stunning in front of the podium. When the event was over, I brought the plant home.  Surprisingly enough, that orchid lasted MONTHS!  Which got me to thinking…

If a grocery store arrangements of roses is $10 and lasts, at best a week, and an orchid plant from Trader Joe’s lasts MONTHS and is $10, then it seems to me that the smarter thing to do is to buy myself orchids. After all, they’ll last months, look beautiful, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to take care of them enough to have them reblossom (confession: I am known as a plant killer). Either way, win-win.

I ended up buying  myself two kinds of orchids.  The first is a Phalaenopsis.  It’s delicate looking.

The second is a cymbidium.  It’s much “plantier” (maybe it can bloom outside?), and has more stems and blossoms on it.

Both bring me joy with their beautiful, graceful lines and delicate colors.  I know that they will provide me with pleasure throughout the next two months.  Which, if you think about it, makes them a bargain.

Union Bashing

I’m old enough to remember when Reagan fired the air traffic controllers for illegally going on strike.  While some feel this made him a hero, I feel that it was the beginning of the end of the middle class professionalism.

In the past 30 years, while people have shouted from the rafters that the unions are undermining the economy with their greedy demands, it doesn’t appear that life has really gotten better for “the worker”.  In fact, given the most recent recession, combined with a rather long unemployment payout, as well as wage cuts and job closings, the worker has even less than ever before.  It’s interesting that people in control of jobs, wages, and compensation continue to cry broke when there continue to be some huge bonus payouts and compensation packages for CEOs.  I think it’s interesting that job are leaving the US at huge rates, but we’re not holding any leaders’ feet to the fire for changing this.  Instead, we blame the worker — the unionized worker.

Consider this.  My dad died at work.  He wasn’t killed there.  There wasn’t an accident.  He had a massive heart attack and died on a Thursday afternoon about 6 weeks before he was due to turn 47.  He’s been out of my life now longer than he was in it. Some might point out that with his history of heart attacks and previous open-heart surgery, he was merely waiting for death.  Others, however, might point out that undue stress caused by his job and family circumstances helped bring this on faster.  If he had lived, we may have been able to prove that stress caused his fatal heart attack.  But we all know, he didn’t.

In the months leading up to my dad’s death, he had been fired for “using narcotics on the job”.  He had had an abscessed tooth, the medication for helping with the infection made him sick and unable to operate equipment, so he had my brother pick him up from work.  Work fired him.  When the union was able to show that the company doctors had given him equally powerful medication and had him return to work, he HAD to be rehired.

This is where your powers of prediction come in.

Obviously if company leaders were willing to fire him for leaving work due to illness, they were ready to fire him for whatever.  The next step was to increase his quota of output.  The union could agree that this wasn’t right, but didn’t want my dad to sue the company.  Doing so would put EVERY man there out of a job.  They wanted to negotiate this issue.  So Dad stayed and worked without getting a lawyer.  Why?  He was a good person in his own right and felt the union would do right by him.  Of course it didn’t work out, but life’s like that. Right?

Immediately after his death relatives wanted to bash the union.  I don’t know why.  The union didn’t kill him.  The union asked for him to not sue and to deal with it for the time being.  In our family it’s shameful to file frivolous lawsuits. It’s shameful to take public assistance if you can work.   If anything, by challenging what the company was doing with quotas and firing based on medicine, the union was forcing the company to play by something called “rules”.  Dad was willing to do that for the good of EVERY employee, not just himself.  It didn’t pan out, but I doubt he would have done anything different even if he’d known the output.  It’s the sacrifice of putting the whole before the one that is at stake even now.

Right now, the state of Wisconsin is working to crush the public employee’s union.  I find that curious having been in a union for some time.  Our teacher’s union works with the district often over the contract.  Over years, we’ve taken concessions and made changes.  Strangely our contract is based a lot on how we use our time, what we do in our jobs, and when we need to be paid more.  Because we are contract employees who work 186 days, what happens outside of those days and whether we can be mandated to do something on our free time gets debated often.  It’s funny how much we want something for nothing.  Even companies have come to feel entitled, same as they claim for the employees.

During my time as a union employee and a representative, we’ve had many debates, hot button topics, and contentious votes.  We’ve used our “pay increase” to pay for our health insurance.  Yes.  Rather than take MORE MONEY HOME we used it to off-set our health care.  Why?  Because health care costs continue to rise yearly.  Whether you pay out-of-pocket or in the beginning, you pay.  We work with kids — kids who spread germs.  Many of us are reproductive women.  We NEED health care.  Given where we live, the average cost of health care, and our pay, if we don’t get it as a benefit, we’re won’t HAVE health care.  With only 10 days of sick leave, you can see where this is headed, right?

As a union, we’ve worked with the district on our school calendar to accommodate varying needs of the students and parents.  We have taken a wage freeze and furlough days.  Despite a state law that dictates how many students should be in a classroom,  teachers took on an additional students (50% more) to save money, not to get raises.  Many of us will take on 1-2 more students in our class to keep there from being combination classes.  Most of us work nights, weekends, and summers to put together the best programs we can.  We continue to take classes — in fact it’s often required to keep our jobs.  We PAY for those classes.  Teachers spend out-of-pocket for supplies, supplemental materials, and rewards.  We do this without support staff (who are important), librarians, music and art teachers, or a yard duty staff.  All while being scapegoated as what’s wrong with the country?  And you wonder why I’m going to fight for an organization that works to protect me and support what few rights I DO have in my job? By the way, have I mentioned that I DON’T get paid vacations (all breaks are unpaid), I am a professional, and, at least in California, I have no ability to draw from Social Security when I retire?

I say this truly, if we have it SO DAMNED GOOD, why aren’t you fighting for my job rather than my termination?

Most “normal” job attributes are there because of unions.  Unions have fought for equal rights of all employees.  They have worked to keep the favored from keeping their jobs and getting huge wage increases at the expense of other employees.  They called for the safety of employees and a 40-hour work week.  Hell, Labor Day is based on actually appreciating people who, well, labor.  The idea that public positions are supposed to advertise jobs and not just hand them to their best friend’s brother is part of this process.  Does it still happen? Yes.  Should it? No.

People want to claim that union costs drove companies to move their production facilities to other countries.  The cost of paying the American worker was “too high”.  What’s interesting is that the profits skyrocketed, CEOs pocketed huge bonuses, and the cost of the product stayed ABSOLUTELY the same or INCREASED.  Why?  Oh, because it costs money to ship things back and forth.  I find it curious that we moved production to Mexico, yet Mexicans are still trying to get into the United States FOR JOBS.  Wha, wha, what?

I say this, people don’t like having to share power.  Most people want more stuff, so they want more money.  Most people don’t like the idea that they can’t just have what they want when they want it.  Therefore, any institution that thwarts that is wrong and should be eliminated.

I say this, be careful what you wish for. What are you going to do when you win and all of a sudden there is NO ONE to stand up for you?

Good-bye 2010

…and, I’m thinking, good riddance.  Really.  Did ANYONE have a good 2010?  I mean, the year wasn’t “bad”, but L O R D Y, it wasn’t good.  Even last summer, a time when teachers should be regenerating, rejuvenating, and reconnecting was “eh”.

Here’s what I know from friends and myself.

  1. Work has been painful.  Many of us in education felt a seismic shift. While there is the normal “us versus them” push and pull that comes in education, all of a sudden it seemed everyone was on board with the idea that it was US (teachers) who were the national bad guys.  You could hear hearts breaking throughout the land.  However, it was the break in morale that is doing us in.  I’ve met more teachers ready to pack up and leave.  That’s scary to me.
  2. Personal relationships took a complete nosedive.  I’ve seen friendships and marriages take hit after hit this year.  People have been struggling in their private lives.  Perhaps this is due to the economy, or other factors may be at play, but uniformly it seemed that people were pretty unhappy.
  3. The job front was taxing all the way around.  People who were trying to find jobs weren’t successful.  People in jobs were unhappy and ready to quit.  People who often had jobs all of a sudden didn’t. There are also the people who would love to quit, but where would they go? Jobs weren’t providing that “home away from home” atmosphere that people had grown accustomed to, nor that sense of hope that one could go elsewhere and make it.
  4. Dealing with the economy.  No one felt secure this year. Most wanted to do something fun, but were afraid of the financial fall-out that would happen if they did.  There has been palpable fear in decision making. So people didn’t.  The flip-side were the “grasshoppers” who spent and spent and spent and everything came due in 2010.  However, with changes to bankruptcy and walking away from debt, more were stuck with the consequences of their playing.  It was miserable to watch and worse to listen to.
  5. Politics!  People didn’t even want to discuss them.  No longer is there discourse.  There is YELLING, a whole lot of yelling.  It’s not fixing anything.  This year, more than most, it appeared that NO ONE cared about FIXING anything.  It appeared that everyone was fixated on BEING RIGHT.  In the meantime, confidence in our country went to hell in a handbasket.  At least with HDC, DYI, and other shows, we can pimp our handbasket.
  6. Homes — I think people are tired of their homes.  Whether through staycations, Netflix, or hosting in, people seemed more annoyed to deal with life on the range.  It’s almost like their homes became a symbol of the recession and the struggle most have felt this year. Add to that unplanned repair expenses and people were UNGLUED.

I am hoping that 2011 brings a fresh sense of renewal to everyone.   Hopefully the economy will turn around, the pendulum will swing a bit back toward center, and that we will focus on working together to build community. Let’s be both hopeful and helpful.

Happy 2011!

It Started With a Quote

When the student is ready,
the teacher will come.
There are no shortage of teachers.

We have a new resource teacher at school named Vicky, and on Friday we were discussing our concern that, with additional budget cuts, we might be looking at 40 students in a classroom. Aside from the fact that most rooms aren’t configured for 40 students, there’s the concern about actually trying to TEACH 40 students and help them understand what’s going on.  We’re already under the gun for NCLB and worried about sanctions.  What happens when we truly cannot connect with every kid?

Thing is, depending on the kid and the school, this might not be a terrible thing.  Classrooms might be crowded, but there are kids who would totally thrive in that environment.  You know why?  Because they would totally thrive in ANY environment. There are kids who are natural learners.  They don’t need tricks or gimmicks to make connections, be thoughtful learners, or contribute to a class.  Whether by nurture or nature, students who enter school with extreme curiosity, willingness to take risks, and who see connections in the world will make it pretty much every time.  For these students, the upper 10-20%, school would continue to be business as usual.

However, for the other 80% who don’t embrace school, this would be an absolute horror.  These students do any number of things to avoid the discomfort that comes from having to do tasks they don’t understand.  You have your  kids who hide, are checked out, or who act out. In each case the child isn’t waving, he/she is drowning.  Yet, like swimmers near shore, they never consider actually just standing up.  These are students that teachers HAVE to touch base with, go through hoops for, keep on their radar, because otherwise, they ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT.

As a society, we are still debating what teachers need to do in classrooms to ensure student learning. While I can do better in how I deliver (logical sequence, task analysis, slower release of responsibility), at some point the student HAS to do the work.  I don’t know, really, that we’re raising too many students with this in mind.  The additional outside-the-bells work that has to happen, isn’t.  In most cases, neither the students nor their parents care.  Why should they bother? I hear from many that their child is frustrated and they just can’t MAKE them do the work.  I wonder to myself, “And you think I can?”  I think as a society, we’re looking at the wrong leg of education.We’re hyper focused on teachers and schools, but we’ve eliminated family contribution.  Why is that?

It seems that we’ve glossed over, forgotten, decided to ignore, or merely failed to recognize that it is the students who need to take in the information, make connections, and learn.  We don’t expect students to actually go through the process of learning. We look at scores from other nations and wonder WHY they are making it.  What do their schools do differently?  How are their teachers teaching. We never actually question how the society and families support school, making this aspect of society key to the country’s economic growth.  We need to recognize that all three, working together, will actually produce a well-educated populous.  We must have schools, students and families all working together.  In the United States, as a rule, we don’t.

Perhaps as a society, we’re not ready to go back to the hard work and sacrifice needed to return to our super-power status. When our children whine about boredom or cry about being made to work hard, we cave in. Perhaps, really, we’re ready to rest on our laurels, enjoy our bread and circuses, and scapegoat teachers for not doing everything for every child every minute of every day.  Perhaps we’re just waiting…

When the student is ready, the teacher will be there.

We hope.