Resolutions for the New Year: Cast Aside the Conflict of the Past and Let’s Create a New Climate to Combat the Coming Abyss.

 Joel Klein
Chancellor
 
Dear Joel:
 
On this New Years day we traditionally create resolutions, a list of hoped for behaviors, do’s and don’t, goals and aspirations. Let me make a few recommended resolutions for your consideration.
 
Firstly, I wish you and yours a healthy New Year, in this world of the internet a lack of civility is all to commonplace, hopefully the blogosphere is a marketplace of  ideas, not of the nasty, anonymous barbs that are too easy to spew forth.
 
I believe we agree re the goals of our school system: to graduate career and college ready students who succeed in their post graduate years (“Schools must now show how they increase both college enrollment and the number of students who complete at least a year of college. In other words, high schools must now focus on grade 13”), and the deep jeopardy we face, the scylla and charybdis, the budget sea monsters preparing to tear at the flesh of our schools.  A four billion dollar city deficit, a nine or more billion dollar state gap, an 11-12 school year without stimulus funds, a billion dollar hole, a truly frightening scenario.
 
We simply cannot afford to continue to bicker, joust, duel and occasionally toss hand grenades at each other.
 
For teachers, those individuals who determine the success or lack thereof of our schools, the ATR pool and school closings dominates discussion in the dingy teacher rooms around the city. We are a sports oriented world, teams win or lose, we understand wins and losses, why the Yankees won the Series and the Mets stumbled. We are uneasy with the selection of football teams to play in the BCS bowls, it’s too complicated and appears unfair. The selection of the 20 closing schools is shrouded in fog. There are probably a hundred or more schools with shaky data that could have been closed.
 
The irony is that these issues have bonded teachers, it hasn’t made them better teachers, it has made them angrier teachers, an anger directed at you Joel. 
 
As we stumble from crisis to crisis we cannot afford to be at each others throats, we cannot afford to spend our energies fighting each other.
 
While I disagree with much of the Arne Duncan agenda the AFT, in the current edition of the American Educator, features a lengthy Duncan essay. Slowly, by small incremental steps, the AFT and Duncan seem to be fostering an alliance of sorts. The New Haven collective bargaining agreement, the heroic Detroit contract, are steps (and Garth Harries, your former deputy was a key player in New Haven), albeit small ones, toward creating a school system that includes core values of teachers, their union and the folks in DC.
 
Consider a few resolutions for the new year:
 
End the ATR Pool and Create Another Process for Placing Excess Teachers.
  
The ATR pool is a political creation, it placed enormous pressure on the union, but it also empowers the union. The union will never agree to laying off teachers in the pool after a period of time, it is the type of issue that resulted in an entire school system remaining on strike until November in 1968. The vast majority of teachers in the pool are currently teaching, unfortunately on a temporary basis. They are victims of being in a school that closed, of being excessed, of coming back from a leave, and, of making too much money. They are the victims of a political struggle, a cadre of more than a thousand teachers whose memory of Joel Klein is not kind.
 
Holding teachers and the union hostage in hopes that one issue can be used to leverage another issue (i.e., raising the charter cap) is dangerous, the longer teachers are alienated and angry the harder it will be to win them back.
 
Eliminating the ATR pool and constructing a system to place excess teachers in an expedited fashion is simply good policy, for schools, for teachers and for kids.
 
Abandon School Closings As the Sole Reform Strategy.
  
A couple of summers ago I listened to Jim Leibman explain the new School Progress Reports, 5% of schools would receive an “A” or an “F,” 10% “B” or “D,” and the middle 70% a “C.” A bell curve, it seemed an interesting approach, although I wasn’t convinced it would be a useful tool. Joel, the decision to abandon the bell curve concept and to decide that 95% of elementary and middle schools are “A” and B” schools is sad and laughable.
 
I read the reasons for each school closing carefully, there was no congruence, no transparent standard, no “win-loss” record. Schools that were granted bonuses were closed. Sadly, it was not defensible.
 
Joel, why didn’t you intervene earlier?  If you see schools that are moving in the wrong direction why didn’t you take direct action and responsibility?
 
Are the LSO, EMO and PSOs providing the levels of assistance that are moving schools forward? Are there real differences in philosophy and approach among these entities?
 
Which network leaders are more successful and why? 
 
We agree that one of the best schools in the city, as defined by their Progress Report grade is Brooklyn International High School. The principal, Pam Taranto, had a long career as an exemplary classroom teacher, and learned to be an exemplary principal in her own school. What is it about Pam and the teachers in Brooklyn International that stands apart from other schools?  Can other schools, principals and teachers, learn from Brooklyn International?
 
Be Bold, Negotiate a Contract That Includes Teachers, That Does Not Abuse Teachers.
 
While dollars are at the core of any agreement progressive contracts drive leadership and instruction, the contract should not become a weapon of management or labor, it should include a vision, a path by which management and labor leadership can drive management and labor relationships at individual schools. All through my career I have told principals and superintendents that their meetings must mirror the level of instruction they want to see in classrooms.
 
We need a contract that empowers schools, school leaders and staffs, to move beyond responsibility to ownership. Teachers collaborating on a grade or within a department, teachers playing a meaningful role in hiring teachers, teachers playing a role in the evaluation of their colleagues, yes, peer review.
 
I disagree with William Ouchi, responsibility must not be vested in the school leader alone, it should be vested with the professionals within the school, school leaders, staffs and parents. Effective schools are learning organizations. (see Peter Sengi here and effective parent involvement here)
 
It is easier to bicker and mud wrestle than to work together. How many multiple school campuses actually create a synergy, an atmosphere of sharing successes and eliminating failures? Too few.
 
The Race to the Top application, the PEP school closing meeting, the raising/adjusting the charter school cap, the contract negotiations, budget woes, the $700 million in Obama/Duncan dollars hanging out there are opportunities for collaboration or conflict.
 
We can spend months or years in combat, the UFT Chapter Leader and the UFT President who battles the forces of evil is popular.
 
Joel, make a resolution, trust teachers, include teachers, create a climate that grows more Brooklyn Internationals, on some issues we can agree to disagree, on others let’s both take risks.
 
The abyss is widening and time grows short.
 
Mutual reflection. Open and candid conversation. Questioning of old beliefs and assumptions. Learning to let go. Awareness of how our own actions create the systemic structures that produce our problems. Developing these learning capabilities lies at the heart of profound change.
  • The Dance of Change (1999)
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One response to “Resolutions for the New Year: Cast Aside the Conflict of the Past and Let’s Create a New Climate to Combat the Coming Abyss.

  1. Pingback: Remainders: Brooklyn Tech students get punk’d | GothamSchools

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