Monday, April 09, 2007

At what price?

I guess we're supposed to be indignant that a boss would require an employee to follow directions. This morning's Rex in the City column reveals this shocking bit of news:

Two sources confirm that the principal at Nashville School of the Arts was threatened with his job if he did not enforce the current and newly tweaked dress code policy requiring students to tuck in their shirts.
Yes, Pedro Garcia, Superintendent of MNPS, has admitted that he uses fear in administering his employees. No one thinks that's the best tactic to use all the time. However, adults should understand that anytime we refuse a direct order from the boss we put our jobs at stake. Garcia isn't asking anyone to break a law (moral or otherwise). You can disagree on whether the policy is sound or worth losing your job over, but you cannot say the man has no right to demand that his vision for the system be carried out by employees under his authority.

As with much of life, you've got to pick your battles. I suggest all those NSA students and parents that 'love' their principal seriously consider whether they love him enough to help him keep his job so he'll be around for the really important battles.


jss37212 said...

So Ms. Brooks, where does this latest blog fit in with this statement you made just the other day?:
"These are principals charged with the safety and education of MNPS children. If they want SSA because in their best judgment after a year of study and discussion it will enhance their mission of keeping children safe and educating them well--what are the compelling reasons for vetoing their best judgment? There are none."
You see, Ms. Brooks, its not just any Machiavellian boss we object to; It’s a boss who knows very little about the kids bullying a principle who knows much more about the kids into infringing upon the rights of parents who know the most about the kids. And, we should always be indignant over stupid leadership.

Kay Brooks said...

"these principals" referred to the principals on the SSA study committee, not principals generally.

I do think principals should have a great deal of latitude in running their own schools. However, that is always subject to the will of their authority.

"’s a boss who knows very little about the kids bullying a principle [sic] who knows much more about the kids into infringing upon the rights of parents who know the most about the kids."

So this made up 'right of parents to dress their children as they see fit' usurps the 'right' of other parents who may disagree with what is appropriate in a public education system their children attend, which system is owned by the entire community who may have another different idea of what is appropriate?

I don't think so.

jss37212 said...

My question is not whether principals (or principles, if we want to speech metonymously) should ever be subject to a higher power, but whether this specifically is an appropriate time for this authority to be exercised. There are many issues where it would be appropriate for the BOE to step in. For example, if on principle a principal decided that only creationism was to be taught in his school, then Garcia would have sound and universal pedagogical reasons for stepping in. But in this case, the decision to implement SSA is fundamentally a matter of school culture.

Garcia has examined the district at large and said, “Too many resources are going towards dealing with these problems. I think that we can save resources by dealing with them through SSA instead of conventional means.” Now, even if Garcia sees this to be true for the district as a whole, it is still ultimately the principals that have to expend their resources, or at least their time. Why would we ignore the principal who looks at his own school and says, “I would have to expend more resources to enforce this rule than is currently being lost on account of the problems it is intended to fix…”? In certain schools, the problems Garcia is trying to fix practically do not exist, but the resources lost, whether they are monetary, temporal or academic, have the potential for being very great with very little payoff in terms of improvement.

Even though you were only referring to the principals on the SSA study committee, given that all principals are “charged with the safety and education of MNPS children,” I don’t see why it should be the committee’s judgment that has the final say at any school but each of its members’ own. All the principals have the opportunity to examine the research of the committee (it has been posted online) so surely each of them are entitled to their own interpretation of the data. After all, alternative and contradictory readings of the study committee’s research have been found and acknowledged by top area newspapers. But the principals acting as individuals have a piece of information that the study committee fundamentally cannot have: information on specific schools. It would be inefficient, and from an economical point of view, suboptimal, to make decisions about resources without this crucial piece of information (the educational equivalent of price discrimination).

I am not defending the ‘rights’ of parents right now, I am defending the judgment of principals over the judgment of the BOE in matters pertinent to specific schools. (Although I do think that the “entire community” that should decide this issue should be the communities of the individual schools after assessing their own priorities, and determining if they do in fact have “another different idea of what is appropriate”.)


Nashteach said...

Yes, insubordination is a firable offense as it should be. However, several things:

1. Part of the dress code policy states that a school may make changes to it.

“The local school and the District reserve the right to modify this policy as necessary and reserve the right to determine what might be disruptive and unsafe. “

Any principal should be well within his or her right to discuss changes with the administration. If a principal said "I'm doing it this way," he has gone too far. If a principal broached the topic of amending the policy for his school, as the policy allows, and was told "No, you'll do it this way or lose your job," that was too heavy handed and unnecessary. Especially for a policy enacted midyear based on Dr. Garcia's visit to one school, Maplewood. IIRC, the board itself was not entirely pleased with Garcia's abrupt enactment of it, and the suspensions doled out for first offenses. Do we really want principals so fearful of being fired they won't broach discussions well within their rights?

I believe several schools, though not NSA, asserted their right to amend the policy after hundred of kids were placed in ISS- which could easily be considered disruptive to the learning environment. Since the policy remains at every school, and they apparently don’t have a right to amend it, what is the meaning of this policy? Does “the local school…reserve[s] the right” mean anything?

2. This heavy handed style of leadership, while okay on occasion, has been the rule rather than the exception. We have lost good building administrators over it. I know a handful of educators who have gone to Williamson County (and elsewhere) to enter administration. I know many quality classroom educators, who would put quality instruction as a top priority, who have chosen not to enter administration. I know of great principals who retired the first chance they got, even though they could have continued providing excellent leadership to our schools. So, okay, we've got the artsy kids tucking in their shirts now, but, indeed, at what cost?

3. Mrs. Brooks- would a charter school be expected to be as answerable to the director of schools as these other principals? If not, this policy aside, isn't that part of the reason you find them more attractive than the schools currently in our system? So, are you unwilling to extend that self-direction to the schools already trying to serve our communities? Again, why do you call for school choice and trying new things outside of the existing bureaucracy, but seem to support "one size fits all" policies for the existing public schools? Why is this not a contradiction?

Is pushing a button on a phone survey about a system wide policy the best ownership we Nashville parents can hope for?