Saturday, April 19, 2008
posted by Q6 at 8:51 PM
(Some background, for those who haven't read this blog for three years: I work at a 7-12 school in Southern California and have been at this site for seven years come June--which is unusual, since most APs get changed out at five years. In those seven years I've seen a lot of transition in the administration: four years in I was the only one of four administrators not changed out, and I've seen another principal change out since then. All in all, the admin team now in place has been in place for three years. My fiancee is a teacher at the same site--which is all legal and fine as long as I don't do her evaluation, which I don't. The other thing you need to know to read on is that over those seven years I've become the only administrator that teachers and parents come to with anything, which is both endearing and exhausting. They have some honesty and competence issues with the other administrators, I'm told.)

The decision to transfer me to another site, I'm finding out, began back in December (though my site principals weren't made aware of this until well into February). A month ago I was told; since I learned the news during a closed-door meeting with the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Instruction, the rumors of my transfer began to fly the moment he walked out my door. I had been told to keep this matter confidential until it was official, which meant getting used to saying "nothing like that has been announced" for WAAAAY too long. Parents have been asking my principals, my fiancee, and me if the rumors were true, and they've been sending letters and e-mails to the district office trying to prevent such a move, rumor or not. I almost feel I should send the district leadership a case of Tylenol or something.

Among the questions I'd been getting from teachers, parents, and (as of this week) students: (1) Why are they doing this? (2) Are you happy with this? (3) What can we do? And all I wanted to tell these people is This isn't my decision; this wasn't my idea; your fight is not with me. But I wasn't able to say anything, since no official statement had been made.

Until yesterday. Yesterday, this whole thing became very, very real for me. I thought I had been privately working through the five stages of grief and making progress--I was wrong. I know this because yesterday we told the teachers (in one big, called-at-the-last-minute staff meeting during break), and I almost lost it completely in front of everyone. And I learned that I've barely started to mourn my career at this school. (I don't know why I feel some need to make this news, which the staff is taking harder than I expected, easier for the teachers. This is harder on me than it is on them, yet I feel compelled to comfort them. I tried to start my little speech with some signature humor--using lines fed to me by my fiancee--and lighten the mood a little: "We're getting divorced, and Daddy's moving out; but we still love you . . . " I ended up finishing just in time--five more seconds and I would have broken down into tears.)

The parents have started a letter-writing campaign organized on a Yahoo user group,and occasionally I get blind-copied on the stuff they send. A lot of it is very flattering, and while I knew that the parents liked me I had NO idea that they felt that strongly about my presence there. (Of course, it's scary to read things like "Mr. Q6 is the only administrator there who doesn't lie to us." I have to remember that since this transfer is not my idea, I shouldn't feel guilty about the fallout.)

For the record, I've been given several reasons for this move, three I can make sense of if we use the phrase "make sense" loosely:

(1) I've been at this school too long. The district leadership wants its Assistant Principals to have a wide range of experience in different demographics and be better prepared for principalship (which is why teachers can stay in the same classroom for thirty years but APs get moved around every five). What seems to be missing from this thinking is that I don't see this as a stepping-stone profession. I was, briefly, a principal elsewhere and I have no real interest in doing it again. The district leadership acknowledges this, but they believe that every AP is a potential Principal, regardless of his personal career goals. (A side note here is that I'm trading places with the AP over there, and he DOES have an interest in climbing the district ladder, so he needs experience on this side of town.)

(2) The new school needs my technology expertise. The goal here, apparently, is to put me to work creating an electronic communication system for the parents similar to what I have set up at this site. Where this gets weird is the demographic: the new school is in a "less affluent" (read impoverished) side of town. While the district office believes the parent Internet access is actually higher than the estimated 45%, the new school's current leadership puts it at around 20%. Either I'm expected to put broadband in every home or someone has serious delusions of my grandeur.

(3) Being in one place for too long isn't good. Yeah, I don't get it either.

There are two other items here that are worth mentioning. It seems that there have been more complaints and concerns expressed to the district and the Board than I thought. The Assistant Superintendent mentioned that while he's seen this kind of reaction about Principal transfers, he's never seen this kind of thing with Assistant Principals. (It's flattering, really.) The other is the timing of the announcement to the staff--it comes before the Board of Education ratifies the move (which is Tuesday, and it's a meeting I won't be within ten city blocks of). Why give the teachers, parents, or anyone else a reason and an opportunity to complain at a Board meeting? Odd, I think.

There's more for me to post on this topic (including why I really dread this move), and this whole uncomfortable thing will drag on for a while, I expect. So stay tuned.
Friday, April 11, 2008
posted by Q6 at 7:22 PM
Sometimes opportunities come out of nowhere. Last year I was asked to speak at a forum on Internet safety by the Bureau of Jewish Education. It ended up being a room with about six kids in it, not at all what they made it out to be. (It was a volunteer thing, anyway, and I was just happy to be seen as someone qualified to be on the program.)

Yesterday I was asked to speak again, on the same topic, but this time by the North American Association of Community Hebrew High Schools for their conference this summer at American Jewish University in Bel Air. They want me to do two breakout sessions, and they've asked about my fee.

Looks like I'm moving up in the world.
posted by Q6 at 6:46 PM
Over the last several weeks I've been involved in a situation at work that I can't really discuss, so I've been dancing around it with some of my previous posts. I'll get to the heart of the matter in due time (I expect the public announcement on the 17th or 18th of April), but for now I'd like to delve into the world of district-level decision-making.

"Mommy, how are decisions born?" might be one way of looking at it: like a child who really doesn't understand the process at all. These decisions can take many forms, but we at the school sites usually see them in the form of program initiatives (read, "unfunded mandates"), hirings, firings, and administrator moves from site to site (the "switcheroo"). District administrators make such decisions based on the information they have, and (supposedly) for the good of the district. The questions I put to you today, friends, are (a) are they working off the best possible information, and (b) what defines "the good of the district"?

When does the district office get wind of how things are going in the trenches? Most of their information comes mainly from two places: field operatives (meaning principals, in most cases), and angry customers (parents). It goes without saying, therefore, that said information has a slant to it, one way or the other. When something goes right, however, who hears about it? I think the same is true of any service industry; how often, really, do we ask to see the manager and tell them what a great job the staff is doing? We don't, and that's information that goes unconsidered in many cases. There's also the "buffer" angle to examine: if parents are pleased with something at a school site, do they tell the principal? In most cases, yes, and still the information doesn't get up to the decision-making level. My point is this: the district administration is trusted to make decisions based on the best possible information . . . so how good are those decisions if said information is incomplete?

Is a school district (the whole) as good as the schools is contains (the sum of its parts)? Many people believe in leaving a good thing to work properly. Factories set up their equipment and, as long as it's performing at or above par, they simply maintain it without making changes. People invest money in various programs, and many leave it as is unless a change is required or a problem comes up. So why move an administrator from a school when all is going well? (Again, this is completely hypothetical.) Some of the answer comes from seeing the view from the district office; they're looking at ALL schools, not just one. They move their chess pieces as they see fit, in order to win the game, and they look at the WHOLE board--and, arguably, they may need to weaken the queen's position in order to fortify the king. Or, maybe, they make such changes just to shake things up and make them fresh (Dr. McCoy said something similar in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" . . . "I know engineers, they LOVE to change things.")

Here's the real problem: these changes are kept very quiet until after they're considered, made, and put into motion. THEN, such changes are announced and the debate begins. Why not hold the debate during the decision-making process? Would that not be the better way to get the best information, work for the good of the district AND the schools, and make the very best possible decisions? Stakeholders, indeed. And if we keep the whole thing quiet until it's over, how do we tell the teachers, students, and staff about these decisions?

That the stork brings them?