Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Perspective on the Superintendent--Part Two

The early days were heady and exciting. The new superintendent arrived in town with a 100 day plan: what he would do in his first months on the job. Indeed, the 100 day plan was the subject of his doctoral thesis, for which Harvard University awarded him a prestigious Ed. D.

He would visit every school in the district, at least that is what I remember hearing. I kept count as the days passed and he did not show up at my school. After day 100 passed, I kept count to see how long it would be. Long enough that I didn't bother to count the days anymore.

But he declared about 60 days into his superintendency that he had finished his plan.

He did go to many events at that time. He met with community persons as he traveled around the city to hear their concerns. He made himself available to the point where I wondered about the toll it would take on his young family.

Kudos for that. Kudos for talking with anyone who showed up, even disgruntled teachers.

He invited anyone to contact him at any time. Many took him up on that and he responded. To this day, if you email the superintendent, you will get a response. He received many invitations to visit schools, some of which were from teachers who didn't inform their administrators about it. The response came soon: Follow protocol.

Then the churning of principal appointments began. Eventually, across the years of his superintendency, over half of the principals at our schools would be changed, regardless of how parents, students, staff, and the community felt.

A newly appointed principal understood well the position they were in: produce immediate results or be replaced. As always, results meant test scores.

In the following year, the superintendent did not wait for the year end state assessment reports. He replaced principals midyear if the district tests were not to his satisfaction.

The inevitable pressure flowed downward through schools and it was maybe at this point that the superintendent began to lose the support of many teachers.

He placed great importance on instructional coaching during his early days. He made all teacher coaches reapply for their jobs and undergo basic training. He told them during the first Coaches Academy that if improvement took place, it would come through them.

He tried in his first budget to place a math and reading coach at all schools. He flubbed the numbers and had to make an embarrassed retreat. He could not provide that. But he did his best.

The next year, though, as that did not work out, he abandoned his stance that the coaches are the key element in school success and moved on. They were not so important, after all. He had a new latest greatest idea.

And we saw another feature of his superintendency: ideas have a short shelf life.

Unknown to him, that had implications that seasoned hands knew: if you didn't like the latest policy, wait six months, it will change. Don't bother yourself about it.

Thus it was that one day he lamented to Times-Union editorial board, "Reform is hard as hell."