SCHOOL DISTRICT REFORM FOLLOW-UP: Just a thought or two…

by Gayle Plato-Besley, M. Ed.

The comments are coming in regarding my last post. It was a post not a report so it didn’t have minutiae of how to change everything and create a perfect school. As to that, I recommend all educators- especially those in political office read everything  Dr. William Glasser writes, with at least a read of Quality Schools.

This lowly writer can only offer a few thoughts out of my simple head. I did not elaborate on the

how-to of reform –through the eyes of this educator, I will give it a try:

Simplify Administration:

One Superintendent, one Education Lawyer on retainer, one CPA, One Special Education Coordinator, Administrative Assistants for each administrator if needed; three-five Site Administrators (liaisons representing principals and the schools  to superintendents) – one for high school, one for middle school, and one-three for the elementary schools. Any programs of need like Title I, ESL, or Prevention/Wellness can be part time stipends like offered coaches. You cannot tell me a girls volleyball coach doesn’t put in as many hours during a season as an ESL coordinator. Yet, the coach may only get a few thousand extra a year, while a Coordinator holding an admin. certificate gets 45-60K. PLEASE. That makes no sense and following rigid guidelines is not a good defense. We expect teachers to follow laborious guidelines with every IEP or 504 plan, let alone in administering testing. We can find expertise in-house.

Require Site Administrators to travel back and forth to the Central Office, working with the principals, sharing their space. One Principal per school. If that seems odd with the high school housing many more children, I recommend that Central Administrative Offices help out with any unusual and high need concerns. Superintendents do this now with high-end discipline or Special Education complaints. Central Office should be housed in a really nice double-wide modular building on the high school campus. Are you laughing? Look at Cave Creek School Unified School District. For years, the administrative offices were in a trailer. This is consistently one of the best districts now with all schools excelling. That functional space use was really savvy and voters and parents appreciated that the best buildings went to the kids. Voters passed the bonds regularly, but that has changed. But then, so have the Superintendents.

Simplify All Meetings:

Robert’s Rules cannot fix a meeting in free-fall. I can remember waiting to speak at a district meeting, it was 9:30 at night, and I had a hour wait at least. The President of the United States can hold a cabinet meeting in 45 minutes but we can’t decide on drinking fountains at our schools. Staff meetings, teacher trainings, community committees are a huge blob of inefficient drivel. No community meeting should last more than 90 minutes, and no staffing more than 45 minutes. Table it or assign to sub-committee and move on. We believe our time is valuable, so state employees better value the client’s time. Appoint a Robert’s Rules Czar, introduce him and let him take it on. It works.

Hire Experts From Within:

I worked with more than a few teachers who just happened to be experts in another area–law, advertising, statistics, and technology. I read that Steve Wozniak (Co-Founder of Apple) is now a middle school teacher in California. Can you imagine him sitting at a teacher training regarding technology in the classroom, as the high paid advisor from some savvy company tells him how to use graphics for presentations? I love it. My principals had no clue what my peers could offer and never asked for their help. Gosh and it would have been really cheap labor too.

Stop Hiring Consultants After Elections: 

There is no better statistical sampling of the local voting public than an election.  If you get results you don’t like as an administrator, I say, acccept the local decision.  Get creative and re-evaluate.  Why did the bond fail:  the People did not like your plan to use the money. Come up with a new plan and don’t try to figure out why you lost.  Would you hire a consultant to see why you won a bond?  Never.

Do you have ideas about reform?  Add on please—

 

GPB


Comments

  1. Oro Valley Dad says

    “Hire Experts from Within” and “Stop Hiring Consultants …” violate the prime law of Para-Bureaucracies. If you do not establish a pattern of spending on these groups what will you do when you retire? Administrators and politicians must support these “consulting firms” so they can have a place to go after they are done working in the public sector.

    For more detail Google “Jim Kolbe CANAMEX.” You don’t think these important people are just supposed to go away once they have retired?

  2. Trent Humphries’ bottom-up financing for schools makes a lot of sense, here. Begin funding at the classroom level and work up to administration where things should be lean and in support of what needs to happen in the classroom. “Kids first” should be the mantra with administration existing as a support function.

  3. Buddy Breon says

    OK. So you are critical for of the Redistricting Committee for a one-size fits all mentality, but use it yourself very liberally.

    First, if school districts could hire all the experts they need, then I would agree that they do not need to hire consultants. But, the costs of having such expertise on-site would far outweigh the costs of consultants. You pretend via your comments that schools overuse the services of such experts, but again present no proof.

    Secondly, you use the portable buildings at CCUSD as an example of a good spending plan under the old superintendent. Well, I know John Gordon, and he wouldn’t agree with you. Had you actually been in those buildings on a regular basis you would recognize that they were drafty, poor users of utilities, and overcrowded. John would also tell you that they presented a very poor image of the district to visitors, whether the visitors were parents, prospective new teachers, or the general public. They needed to be replaced.

    You equate an unasked-for need to study victory in a bond election to studying the reasons for a loss. Are you serious? That analogy makes zero sense.

    Most school districts do not use “Robert’s Rules of Order” for conducting business meetings. Figured you would have known that, given your “credentials.” Public comment should take time, everyone wanting to speak should get the chance. Districts that unnecessarily limit that do a disservice to their taxpayers. This is local government at its most “local” level.

    You make it sound like a small district such as CCUSD, with all highly performing schools, was an example to every district, including those with 30, 40 or 50 schools. Give me a break! They don’t compare.

    As to using talent within, most schools try to do so. But, teachers probably have a full work load, so how do they support technology in the classrooms for all the other teachers?

    Guess what! If I’m a building administrator, I do not want to delegate my interface with my superior to a subordinate. If you knew anything about management, you would understand.

    You offer simplistic explanations for complex issues. I am done reading your dribble until you have evidence to support your statements. Until then, you don’t have ideas, you only have opinions.

  4. Buddy, Buddy–Why do I make you so angry?

    Expertise is expensive– period. Many school districts employ multi-faceted people who would more than be able to teach topics often presented at in servicing such as Master Teacher Strategies, or Legal Issues needed for the classroom teacher. I did it for free, colleagues taught about ed law for instance as a pro bono offering. we were received well too. It’s a thought.

    FYI- John Gordon inherited the drafty portables from Nate Greenberg. He was the CCUSD superintendent who decided during the overcrowed days of the mid to late 90’s that the administration would be fine in a bunch of decent portables. It was a shrewd decision in a time he needed to raise bond monies. I thought it was a good example.

    Finally- You are assuming a pecking order with the admin I did not define. In my mind, a liaison would be better as a classified not certified, higher ranking office employee. A liaison, by definition, is a communicator of needs not a dictator of functions. Liaisons are cheaper than 70-90K dollar administrators and they are, by definition, designed to do finite jobs. The point is this- the more we define roles and clarify expectations, people are more efficient.

    Finally, why is management so complicated in education anyway? You answer really helps support my point that educators have created a overworked, undefined, confusion of order with all of the admin pecking about. I stand by what I said, and a simple definition is not a bad thing; to simplify the pecking order and eliminate the managerial pork is a trend in business. Yet, to make you happy Buddy, and I really want to help you feel better as I sense you don’t, I will quit writing anymore on the issue. Have a Nice Day Buddy!!!

  5. Against my better judgement, I read one more of your comments.

    I now recognize your problem: like many who have simple answers for education, you just don’t know what you’re talking about.

    As conservatives we should be interested in many things in regards to education, including how to keep local control, how to improve student achievement, how to control costs while supporting the public educational system, and how to wrestle the awful influence of the NEA from our classrooms.

    Simple answers have not worked. It will take a commitment from conservatives to attack the issues from the inside. To do that, we will have to work within the system while not becoming part of the Borg. A task that is orders of magnitude more complex than your thoughts on education.

  6. Live Free or Die says

    Want to inprove education? Vouchers!

  7. Rightwoman,

    I suggest you work in a different district for awhile. Having been in two, I can tell you my experiences do not meet yours. I have experienced a top heavy district and a lean one. I have been in a district with a palatial district office and one that was in an old, not even as good as a double wide, metal building. One was all out on the consultants and the other did all it could in-house.

    Here is my take on your personal views.

    As for the admin line-up you suggest. One look at the current fed/state requirements and that idea is out the window. I appreciate your desire to limit non-essential personnel, but like many things, “essential” is in the eyes of the beholder. If it means hiring a central office person to administer tests, analyze data, and record co-hort groups…go for it. Allow the site administrator to be on campus, develop site based solutions so those issues do not ever go to the DO. Allow the DO to handle the systemic issues that affect all sites and need uniformity, allow the sites to do the rest. Limit time away from sites, one meeting a week should do it.

    There is no way a high school can operate with one site administrator. Who handles discipline, what about activities and athletics? The role of an AD can be the most time consuming, on site, and involved of any position. Discipline and attendance, teachers are overloaded as it is and time spent on discipline and housekeeping takes them away from students who need the positive attention.

    Meetings too long? No rule can fix a long-winded, out of touch speaker. Robert’s Rules is the last thing you need, common sense cannot be taught. Interest based meetings set a time line and limit each person so as to allow all to speak.

    Consultants…I am not a fan of school election consultants. A grassroots effort will trump a hired gun any day. The problem, laws for school elections are not the same as any other subdivision.

    In-house expertise, if you have a former CEO on your staff use that person! But to say because one school in California had one guy all schools do, well, that is a bit unrealistic. Having tried to get people to do things, even with a stipend, there are only so many hours in the day and days in the week.

    My opinion….

    Develop best-practice models and utilize them. Allow local control on policy, personnel, and practices as long as they meet measurable outcomes.

    Voucher’s, no problem as long as all schools who accept the publicly originating dollars play by the same rules. Any school or district that cannot compete, too bad. This does not eliminate religious education as long as all other state standards are met, it is a choice not an imposition by the state.

  8. Oh yes…thanks for the opportunity to have a dialogue. Your willingness to open up and start things off, even if I disagree on one or two, is appreciated!

  9. Ann- Thanks for the civil discourse. I think you get the point that what I am writing isn’t to be taken as Gospel but just some thoughts. I like to think that blogging is brainstorming. Oh an excuse my typos all as I am a lame typist.

    All of these random thoughts of mine are in response to the concept of the redistricting- smaller, lower incomed, and dwindling districts are being forced into an analysis of what they do not want. Unfortunately, there is a trend to avoid change, try to copy the structure of larger districts, and miss the elephant in the living room as it were and restructure before dissolving.

    I don’t care if there are principals or 8 ft rabbits named Harvey running schools as long as they are efficient and neccessary. When a parent cannot tell you if the principal is a Rabbit or not, then somebody or some system isn’t working.

    If the laws and govt don’t allow change, then time to change the laws. Of course, in a district of many schools and lots of programs, some positions are needed as full time. My point is that the mid to small size districts do have lead teachers, stipened part time administrators, and testing coordinators who are not full time employees. I was a testing coordinator for all middle schools and a full time school counselor, and nobody even gave me an extra doughnut at the staff meeting.. I know, it’s sad, but then I didn’t need it anyhow. A stipend would have been nice!

    Portables on campus– that was an example of creative management. Please see the thought process not the example as the only point. Pulling the Rabbit Outta the Hat doesn’t make it magic.

    Bureaucracies create the red tape, bad meeting style, and redundency of tasks.

    Oh, and Point of Information, why not use Robert’s Rules to help manage meetings that have gone bad? I’ve actually attended staff and council meetings, in school districts, using the Robert’s fundamentals. I do not know if the readers and commenters have experience in the classroom, but I have and I’ve been in smaller districts and large union closed shops(Seattle area). Once there are jobs created and funded, NO ONE wants to lose his job. NO one offers to analyze it all.

    Before the restructuring gets pushed anymore, the smaller district and low funded areas must face creative change or die, cahnge must be embraced. If a large district student-wise is in the mix, then funding is the key at hand.

    Please quit jumping on my specific thoughts and see the point I am saying as I think everyone commenting is in agreement that there is a need for better use of funding and leaning down. On local and in-house help, defining job descriptions tightly so more positions CAN be part time makes good sense. I am certain this is possible in the biggest and the smallest districts; finally treating everyone’s time as valuable like we should billable hours makes efficiency a key.

    As for the need to be personal and nasty, I am a bit concerned for you Buddy, MY Buddy. Are you writing this stuff from a workplace? You may want to revisit that. You see, I don’t blog at work but from my home. I see that as a no no and a waste of an employer’s money–especially if it’s the taxpayer’s money.

    Buddy, please consider posting a real piece as I suspect you’re very bright but under-appreciated. I appreciate you, but I recommend less caffeine and stop those nasty bits. As a Certified Counselor, I know you wouldn’t attack if you didn’t care. I am touched, but please let me go Buddy– let me go… 🙂 Gayle

  10. Buddy Breon says

    So, you try to bait me back in. Congratulations. You win.

    Please explain your sudden jump in logic to question if I am posting from work. That is a prime example of your inability to explain your thinking – you assume too much, including the assumption that I’m an idiot who would post when he is being paid to work.

    As to suggetions to improve education, I would suggeest that you are either inexperienced or not broadly experienced or, more likely, you are simply naive.

    Here is some real-world advice on how to change school districts, one action at a time.
    This is a hard system to crack. Elected board members are taught that they are simply to set policy and that the implementation is up to the superintendent. No one will say what the board should do when the superintendent doesn’t implement properly or timely. But, school staff will cry “micro-management” at the slightest attempt to correct errors they make. Support your board’s attempt to manage the district with real oversight of the superintendent. The old school answer of “we are the professionals” does not cut it in a failing system.

    Here are a few things you can do now to help improve education in your district (it is not all inclusive and not necessarily in order of action):

    1. Get involved at the district office level by attending board meetings and being appointed to district committees (districts use committees to pretend to involve the public – just be careful you are not simply rubber-stamping the administration’s plans).

    2. Attend district sponsored seminars on school finance (if there aren’t any, ask for one to be held). Learn where the money comes from (your district may be spending upwards of $100 million more than just the M&O budget)and why it’s allocated as it is. Learn about the primary and secondary taxes for education and how they are implemented.

    3. Study your districts test scores, particularly comparisons to other years as well as to other districts. Focus on trends more than specifics at first. Question the results, looking for action plans for corrective action.

    4. Make public record requests to see contracts of top staff members and find out what each costs you, not just in salary, but in benefits and perks. Look for egregious benefits and potential double-dipping – then bring it to the board for redress. The simple request will make district staff aware of your interests in the district and open doors for communications. They will know you mean to be involved.

    5. Before speaking at board meetings, get your facts in order and present a logical, non-angry statement and ask for specific action, such as a report at a future meeting or a review with the staff. Document everything and follow-up with e-mail or letters to the board members.

    6. Find other parents and taxpayers with similar concerns and become a public force in the district.

    7. Get involved in the election processes, whether for board candidates or revenue elections.

    It’s only a start, but at least it is something any of us could do. And, at least it’s a start.

  11. Buddy Breon says

    By the way, I’m not angry with you. I don’t even know you.

    I do know people like you.

    They have all the answers, just no facts. They have all the wise words, but no ideas. They think simplistic solutions will inspire others to action, but have no place for those who want to take action to go.

    You are entitled to your opinions, but your surprise at the lack of agreement from conservatives is indicative of your thinking process.

  12. GREAT Points Buddy. I support your ideas and find what you ntoed adds to my material. Please write more in a full post soon.

    My role now is as a parent not an employee at this time but I am in full agreement on the get involved level. I served on a number of committees, was a union representative ( not easy as a conservative in Seattle), and acted as both a teacher, counselor, and administrator. Now as a fulltime mom I am feeling as sides of the educational “collective”. NO Borgs here though. Remember Buddy, you said you didn’t know me so how could you know if you’ve acquaintences like me?

    Assumptions aside and slams ignored I did agree with you. I bet we would on a lot of things.

  13. kralmajales says

    What is wrong with our schools is that people fall prey to the idea that administration is sucking all the money out of education and that it is the reason things are so ruined. It is a bait and switch argument…which leads people to say that there is waste, if we cut them, they will be more efficient, and the waste will go away. All of this leads to LESS funds and that means less for school capital improvements, new schools, new teachers, it means cuts in counselors (who I owe my college degree to), and a host of bad policy.

    To add to this, everyone uses this argument to keep property taxes low, which are used to fund the schools in the first place (primarily). When we can get enough from property taxes we go to states and feds and the answer from conservatives is that schools are a “local” problem.

    In the end, the schools are poorly funded. Even if we fired every administrator (and most are quite important…the same argument could go for firing the higher ups who run corporations..and would be equally stupid)…we still wouldn’t have the funds needed to make things work.

    Yes, while it is not the only factor, more money DOES equal better education. Look at the Catalina District (16) that everyone wants in so damned badly. I would bet that most could only find a few examples of poorly funded school systems that still have great schools…for the most part…those that are funded well…do better.

    We have our economic development agents in Arizona telling us that education is the most important factor keeping us from excellent companies and jobs. These same people need to step up to the plate and start arguing for the funding necessary to improve our schools. They need to fight the rhetoric I mention above that puts us into the latter 3rd of schools and school funding in the nation.

    Last, yes..there is waste in bureaucracies. There is waste in corporations and the market too. We need to deal with waste much better than we do, but that is no cause to argue that we need to cut education funding or to continue to fund it poorly. Not ALL of it is wasted…not all administrators are loafers. It is unfortunate that these two things seem to be driving the debate on education in this state.

  14. Buddy Breon says

    OK. Most administrators are necessary and not loafers.

    Now, explain to me why the administrators, who get up to 30 days paid vacation and a whole bag full of sick time along with normal holidays also get two weeks off at Christmas and a week in the Spring. Now, that is waste at its highest level. These people do not have to have school in session to have work to do; e.x., they work 12 month contracts. So, why all this time off? Where are the governing board members who are to be policing this issue.

    You want to save money and do some good, start with just a small thing like this and get it fixed. We lose thousands of man-days of work during the Christmas holidays, when all those people need off is one or two days for Christmas and one day for New Year’s. Any other time could be taken out of their vacation time like it is for the rest of us.

  15. reminds me a bit of a Hudson River School piece..the colors and reflection so soft and warm. Lovely.

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