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District needs to resolve conflict sooner rather than later
Original post made
by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 3, 2006
The Palo Alto school board took a much-needed step Thursday night when it agreed to hire an outside facilitator to explore the problems between the district's middle management group (principals, assistant principals and other managers) and the supervisory staff, including Superintendent Mary Frances Callan.
The only trouble is that whoever is hired won't start talking to school district people until January and nothing will be resolved until February at the earliest. Considering that a middle managers' memo about lack of trust and communication between the supervisory staff and these managers surfaced in early September, resolving this conflict seems to be taking a lot of time.
I agree with board member Gail Price who apologized for the board not acting more quickly to the Sept. 6 memo, saying the delay has had a negative impact on morale.
On Thursday the board appointed three people (board members Dana Tom Price, and Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers) to its half of a committee that will decide the role of the facilitator as well as screen applicants. Next, the middle managers have to appoint four to six people to the same committee. I just hope the managers make the appointments quickly to speed up the process.
I also would encourage the committee not to spend a lot of time defining what criteria should be used to select a facilitator. I've found in interviewing candidates that when the right person comes along, people just know that's the person for the job.
Ostensibly, someone could be hired by late November and begin talking to people earlier than next year. It's not healthy to let district conflicts simmer month after month. I know things take time, but working in a stressful environment daily can be frustrating.
By the way, the name of this new group is the "Organizational Development Committee." That certainly doesn't give a hint to anyone about what this committee is all about, especially since the underlying issue here is whether Callan should continue as superintendent of the district.
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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2006 at 1:37 am
Well said. Diana, if you have time, there is some DEEP reporting that can be coaxed from this crisis. It's reporting that goes to the heart about how and why the then-BOE came to hire Mary Frances Callan, and why the criteria for hiring Superintendents needs to be better-thought-out, and done with far more participation from PAUSD teachers and administrators.
It needs to be clearly stated that Callan is not "evil", or a "bad person". In fact, Callan can be quite engaging when she wants to be, and knows her way around some of the state's educational political circus (although her effectiveness in leading local political agendas is high in question). Callan's problem is a part of who she is; it''s simply that her management style is ineffective for *this* group of teachers and administrators. That's been clear from the get-go.
Callan was hired because her reputation for being tough with unions preceded her. What surprised me at the time she was hired was her seeming lack of *comprehensive* gravitas, especially given the candidate pool that PAUSD could have chosen from. This is not meant as an insult; she'a a capable administrator, as far as it goes. That said, given PAUSD's reputation, and the talent out there - even in our OWN district - we could have hired someone who was more in tune with personnel.
What was puzzling at the time is why the BOE chose a mid-Western search firm to go out and do a national for a Superintendent. This is an action that flies in the face of the expressed goals PAUSD claims to have when hiring *anyone* - namely, "we hire the best of the best". If that's really true, and not a sound bite, why aren't we picking our Superintendents from a pool of our best site administrators, who have been in, and understand PAUSD better than the "hired guns" that we tend to bring in?
Past BOE members, like Kathy Kroynmann, practically channeled Callan on all personnel issues. I heard *many* PAUSD staff complaining about this. It's as if Kroynmann had one BIG agenda - to crush compensation increases - and voted to bring in a "heavy" to get the job done.
Another question that this crisis begs is "why and how do we end up with a BOE that almost NEVER has a professional educator as part of its membership".
Can anyone name ANY professional, certified body of professionals who have policy mostly made for them by people who are not at least mostly members of their profession? I can't think of one. There may be a few, but if so, it's a FEW, at most.
We had better start re-thinking the way we do education around here, in a number of ways. The world is changing at warp speed, with all institutions - education among them - along for the ride. We MUST find ways to create BOE's that have a more efficient mix, including at least 1-2 members who have *real teaching and/or educational administrative experience*. Otherwise, we're going to continue to politicize our educational institutions in ways that keep them from evolving fast enough to stay on board this warp speed world.
Getting back to the subject of your post: yes, it's important that this process speed along; it's also important that anonymity be *clearly and transparently* protected. I've stated on another thread that it's not a good idea to have a PAUSD administrative executive on the "half-committee" that the boarrd is trying to establish, *especially* if that person is not bound by the same confidentiality rules (defined by the Brown Act) as the PAUSD-apponted members to the "half-committee".
As well, stay on top of the spin, which will be difficult in this case because the senior executive team and three board members are spinning as fast as a gyroscope in order to maiintain some semblance of control and calm image. You could have cut the behind-the-table tension with a knife last evening;; it was that thick, especially when Mandy Lowell, Camille Townsend, and Dana Tom (especially Townsend and Tom - real disappointments, so far) tried to insert only members of the delay-causing, time-buying, spin-this-thing-into-aether majority. that was a special moment, and a brilliant tactical move. Now, at least, we are assured that there will be a fair, impartial, thoughtful, articulate voice (Gail Price) on that committee, if it goes forward.