Dear Chancellor Black
Welcome to the most frustrating and gratifying job in America.
Success at the Hearst Corporation was easy to measure: stock prices, profit margins, ad sales revenue, circulation, all data that was readily available and fully understood. Measuring success in schools is another story. Your predecessor flacked his iteration of the data, Diane Ravitch and other well-regarded scholars averred. Claiming success in the schools is a little like claiming success in Iraq, no one believes it.
Your neighbors and friends undoubtedly think highly of Mr. Klein, the end product users, the communities of color around the city, the parents of the million plus student school system, and, the vast majority of the hundred thousand plus workforce were alienated and deeply suspicious of both the man and his policies.
Do the skills gained at managing the Hearst Corporation, with 2000 employees prepare you to manage a 23 billion dollar organization, with over 100,000 employees, 1500 work sites and over a million consumers? For many of us Joel Klein’s inner circle, his deputies, either gave poor advice, refused to give advice, or blindly carried out his confrontational postulates.
You have a few months to gain the trust of your employees and the families you serve, I suggest by listening,
1. Go to schools and listen to teachers and principals. For eight years we have been told what to do, the school system has become a paramilitary organization, orders are dispensed and the troops are expected to salute and carry out the orders: the result is a sullen and angry workforce.
2. Meet and engage parents. Attend the UFT Parent Outreach symposium this Sunday and meet hundreds of parents, attend CEC meetings, engage with the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), local NAACP chapters, the Immigrant Coalition, meet and listen to the concerns of parents.
3. Attend the December UFT Delegates meeting, introduce yourself to a thousand teacher union leaders face to face, and listen to their concerns.
Begin to remove the obstacles that prevent collaboration:
* negotiate an end to the current ATR personnel policy, your predecessor has chosen an expensive, confrontational staffing policy that has little to do with improving teaching and learning. The abolition of the policy would save millions of dollars and begin to build trust with teachers.
* return to “progressive discipline” personnel practices. Currently over six hundred teachers are awaiting disciplinary hearings, the vast majority will be returned to school, either the charges will be dismissed or the teachers will pay a minor fine. Once again, the practice is costly and ineffective.
* Work with parents, teachers and their union and electeds on the 2011-12 budget. A yawning 9 billion dollars state budget gap presages a disastrous budget with staggering cuts and layoffs. As a school community, a highest priority must be to build a coalition to fight these prospective cuts.
* Participation reduces resistance, the current school closings path frightens and angers parents and teachers. Why doesn’t the department intervene at an earlier stage? Why doesn’t the department identify schools “in trouble,” work with parents and staffs, set clear markers, and require interventions? Yes, at times school closing may be required, however, the decision should be the final alternative.
* Co-locating charter schools in public schools is a bad idea. Public schools and charter schools cannot co-exist in the same building. Require charter schools to find their own space as a prerequisite to opening.
The idea of consensus building was anathema to your predecessor, he announced a policy, defended it vigorously, and attempted to silence all opposition. Whether or not the policy had merit was gobbled up in the backlash and the battle.
Ride a yellow school bus with kids, eat in a middle school lunch room, chat in a teachers’ room, talk to kids, those in classrooms, those wandering the halls, and those wandering the streets, immerse yourself in the culture of teaching and learning.
And, chat with a few other high profile leaders who bear the brunt of public approbation: Donnie Walsh and Sandy Alderson.