A simple email…a not so simple response

Dear Mr. Schultz and Members of the Board,

I would like to know if the board approved the advertisement by Reverend Canty that was published in the Sunday newspaper. Since it contains the school district seal, is the advertisement and its contents the opinion of the entire board?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Tammi Soles

Good Morning Mr. Shultz and My Fellow Board Members:

While I have been away from the city all week I understand that as chairman and perhaps others of you as board members have been questioned, as in the instance of the inquiry listed below, about the public statement I made in Sunday’s paper.

Without offense to you, please be advised that I do not need anyone to answer or defend me.  My remarks are on the RECORD and I stand firmly behind every statement I made. For two months I researched news articles, periodicals and the internet attempting to better understand the issue of “teacher morale.”  There is documentation for every example I cited.

Obviously, there are some folk who misunderstand my role as a board member.  I have not subjugated my right of “FREE SPEECH” because I sit on the board.  I would dare not speak for the board without the authority of the board; but I do not need the board’s authority to write or express whatever I feel like writing and “PAYING” for out of my personal coffers. So, whenever anyone ask about something I said or did you shouldn’t have to entertain the discussion.  SEND THEM TO ME, PLEASE!!!

The Sumter School District is a positive and progressive move for this community.  Yes, there are drawbacks and hindrances.  We will definitely need to revisit some of our policies and practices and we must continue to improve communications and establish healthy relationships; but we must not allow a few folk to derail this process neither must we allow a regressive mentality to chart our course.

I have such a problem with questions that springs forth from obvious retardation but to squelch the matter I will address it.  The Sumter School District Seal is not copyrighted, so I didn’t need your approval for that either.  Further, I have 200 cards in my possession, personal cards with the seal affixed, printed and provided by the District that identifies me with the District and my recent overwhelming re-election qualifies that relationship.

Finally, I struggle to be the voice of reason on the board because I think I best serve in that role.  You nor the community hear little from me because I tend to listen, process and advise; but when my “BUTTON” is pushed you will always get a red flag.

Ralph W. Canty, Sr.




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Canty’s tone in ad insulting to school district employees

I respectfully disagree with much of what Rev. Ralph Canty proclaims in his rather lengthy diatribe published Sunday, Dec. 2 in the Item. His primary purpose seems to be to stifle those who dare speak out for Sumter County’s teachers. His tone is dismissive and insulting to the educators and parents of our district. Though I am not an employee of this district, I am a parent of children attending district schools, and I have been teaching for 15 years, first as a high school teacher in Lexington 1, then as a teacher in Spartanburg 1, and now as a professor at USC Salkehatchie. Through these years as an educator across the state, I have yet to see community leaders who were willing to so publicly dismiss teachers and their concerns.

If we are to assume that Rev. Canty speaks for the board and superintendent in his paid advertisement emblazoned with our district seal, the official stance seems to be that all who dare pose questions are resistant to change. Contrary to Rev. Canty’s propaganda, resistance to new ideas is not the problem in this district. An unwillingness to work together is. Rev. Canty’s statement that the world is changing is true, and so are management principles. We now realize that collaboration, rather than antiquated top-down leadership principles, leads to excellence. The teachers, building-level administrators, and parents I know want to work alongside their administration. If our district officials would listen willingly and thoughtfully, rather than defensively, they might find that people are willing to support them in their endeavors.

Our teachers are not resistant to change. They are being given too many changes at one time with too little guidance. That goes for principals as well, so I really do not want to hear again that our principals are responsible for the controversies surrounding report cards. The implementation processes for standards-based report cards and Common Core standards for grades K-2 are perfect examples of how the district does not adequately train its staff, despite the thousands of dollars spent sending personnel to training events.

Consider the timeline for Common Core and standards-based report cards. The two things—Common Core and standards-based reports—are not linked. Rather, our district has decided to implement them at the same time. Schools were notified last spring that we would be moving to Common Core standards. In August they were notified we would also be implementing standards-based report cards. The week before report cards were due, teachers were told how to submit grades through the computer. Up until the day before the deadline for inputting scores, the teachers received conflicting instructions about how and when to input grades. The confusing instructions were sent from the district office, not from principals, who seem to be getting much of the blame these days for how poorly the process was handled. How would any dedicated teacher feel when told to give only 1’s and 2’s, then to give 3’s, then not to input any more grades, then to immediately input grades? What about the fact that some students were making all A’s but teachers were advised to give those students the same 2’s and 3’s as the kids making C’s and D’s? Confused and frustrated are two adjectives that come to my mind. Also, keep in mind that, during this first quarter, questions about salary and late pay stubs and concerns about SWEET Sixteen lingered in the minds of teachers, but those issues are, of course, separate.

While debate continues on standards-based grades, I actually think that standards-based grading could provide real insight into learning. However, no one prepared our teachers for this huge change that has already been implemented. We are talking about a real paradigm shift here, one that will take much time, thought, and preparation. Announcing a change is not training. Telling someone how to input grades is not training. Standards-based report cards require teachers to use standards-based grading, and that requires a different way of thinking. Testing needs to be modified and certainly so does the way teachers set up their grade books since a standards-based approach is a fundamentally different approach to assessment. Teachers cannot be expected to use standards-based report cards until they master standards-based grading. If the district is going to spend money on professional development (and, honestly, they probably should if they are going to require big changes), the district office needs to see that it trains the people who are actually working with students—the teachers—and give them time to figure out what they are doing before they are required to implement.

Likewise, the district needs to start educating parents far in advance of making fundamental changes in grading policies. One brochure and an information session are not enough. A couple months are not enough either. Children, parents, and teachers are being asked to completely shift the way they view grades, and that takes time as well as logical explanations. An administrator or a district superintendent saying, “This will benefit your child” or “This gives an accurate snapshot of your child’s progress” is not convincing. Parents need examples and logical reasoning, not just a decree from the district office crying, “This is what we are doing.” Sorry, but we just don’t trust you yet, and until we see less finger pointing and more “Let’s figure this out together,” we never will.


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Teacher morale related to leadership of graduates

Ralph Canty, a member of the Sumter School District Board of Trustees, addressed teacher morale in a “thank you” letter printed in The Item on Sunday, Dec. 2. I found many of his ideas interesting. He stated, “These times are indeed demanding and there are many vicissitudes which we must still subdue. Among them is the issue of teacher morale. I suspect that it is easier to find areas where teacher morale is problem than to find places where it is not a problem.” He then gives information to support his “thesis”: “In scanning the archives of some of the major daily newspapers (New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, and Chicago) I found articles on the issue in every one of them.”

Randolph Bynum, superintendent of Sumter School District, is a 2007 “graduate” of the Broad Superintendents Academy. Created in 2002 by billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, the Broad Superintendents Academy has come under fire by critics who say that it is hostile to teachers. The Broad Superintendents Academy is not certified, has no state approvals, and is not subject to any outside monitoring, yet it “trains” people who then take leadership roles in school districts. Let’s take a look of some of its other “graduates” and the districts where they served. Jean-Claude Brizard (class of 2007) was CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 2011-2012. He recently resigned. Brizard previously served in Rochester, New York. His tenure there was mired in controversy. Shael Polakow-Suransky (class of 2008) is the Chief Academic Officer and Senior Deputy Chancellor in New York City Public Schools. Joel Klein (Broad Foundation’s Board of Directors) was the former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. John Deasy (class of 2006) is the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Alberto Carvalho (class of 2004) is the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Miami-Dade even won the “prestigious” Broad Prize. Finally, Eli Broad was a major contributor to Students First, former Washington D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s organization that advocates for charters and vouchers. Rhee also serves on the Broad Foundation’s Board of Directors.

I would like to share a theory of my own: Decreased teacher morale can be directly correlated with the top down, punitive leadership style of Broad superintendents. I only hope that our local school board will read beyond the headlines, do some research, and began to understand the Broad Foundation’s role in corporate education reform schemes that are wreaking havoc on our nation’s schools, teachers and children. For more detailed information, go the following link: http://parentsacrossamerica.org/a-guide-to-the-broad-foundations-training-programs-and-policies/

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Stressed in Sumter

I have been in the school district in Sumter for 20+ years. I have lived through a myriad of new teaching techniques and evaluations. I have dealt with issues every year. I lived through one year of district scandal where embezzlement happened and still could say I need a set of dictionaries and get one. The kids did what you told them to do, because to hear your name called to the office meant something. No counseling. The counseling meant your parent had to come get you. Not anymore.

 Now we put together the utopia lesson plan. Get through an all-day evaluation and never hear a word back for months. What should I work on, where do I lack in your opinion? Well, I cannot tell you what I did that day anymore, I have moved on and I promise this … so have those who evaluated me and had to type for at least 3 hours to complete my evaluation, all 5 of them. The validity of an evaluation is compromised even if scripted; if it takes 3 weeks for someone to write it. Then it is not valid anymore. You do not still feel the excitement the kids did or I did. You are filling in forms and wanting it done. I do not blame you. Who wants twelve hours extra work on the weekend?

I think that Sumter needs to know that their children are being taught by the stressed out teachers that want to show the world what we can do when we have support and pride in our profession. When a board member says we are fighting change, it is a big mistake. He hit us all. I personally worked towards consolidation on my own time and even on Sundays. I worked with great people from both districts. Everyone had nothing but the hope for the best for our students.  We want the best for Sumter. I feel a slap in the face. But you know what? I will not give up. I will teach and be the best I can be. Not for them but for you… the parents, community, and supporters who understand. Most importantly, my kids! I teach the students… I DO IT FOR THEM!



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Losing Hope

I am a teacher who wept in front of her class today.  Not long and hard but it was enough to make them stop and take notice.  I stared at the four things on their desk that were considered to be technology and realized that they had no room to work,  but I was trying to meet requirements in case someone “popped in” for an observation.  I became truly terrified at that moment and overwhelmed with sadness.  I almost immediately regained my composure.  I had to for my students.  Those poor babies are being used as pawns and I’m “human capital”.  How degrading and humiliating.  I am honestly having trouble sleeping, eating and just thinking clearly.  I can’t even enjoy my favorite holidays because of the stress of “Sweet Sixteen”.  There’s nothing sweet about it!  I actually have become “socially retarded” because all I do is work.  I  have no life!   The job I was born to do has now become the bain of my existence!  I’m trying so hard but I feel like a Hamster on a wheel going nowhere fast.  This idiocy has got to stop!  Let children be children and let teachers teach!  Stop attaching bogus numbers to standards “evaluating” teachers and telling us you’re not evaluating us!  Stop scoring us low and telling us you’ll help us improve so that the administration can pretend that Sweet Sixteen is working when it is the worst thing that has ever happened to Sumter!  Also, stop trying to do the same to our students!  Life is short and childhood is dear.  “Let us work, let us live!”  Please keep me anonymous because I need my job.


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Trying to Stay on the Bus

What is one to do when you work in a climate of fear and intimidation? What is one to do when your Trustees are fed with false and manipulated information? What is one to do when you don’t know who to contact without repercussions? What is one to do when you suffer in silence and is unsure of what will be demanded next? This is life of many employees in Sumter School District!
Here is a description of our superintendent leadership style found at
http://www.leadership-with-you.com/directive-leadership.html :
“Directive Leadership is a common form of leadership we see in the world today. This leader tells the subordinate what to do, and how to do it.
He initiates the action about the things to do and tells subordinates exactly what is expected of them, specifying standards and deadlines. They exercise firm rule and ensure that subordinates do follow.
This kind of leaders are usually found in more traditional and long standing companies where the prevalent culture in the country is a more authoritarian type of rule, and especially so in Asian countries.
Employees in these organizations will find it hard or sometimes even frustrating to work there. This is because when a leader behaves in such a way, it restricts the potential of individuals in the organization by not valuing their creativity and initiative.
As a leader, you must strive not to become like that because this is how you ‘manage’ people. But people don’t want to be managed, they want to be lead.
However, of course there are some cases where this form of leadership is important, like in the military where strictness and accuracy in performing tasks is often a virtue.
However, for most other cases, I believe that this form of leadership in this day and age is counter-productive.”
When our new superintendent was hired, most of us were excited. We looked forward to the leadership and experience he would bring to help us continue excellence in education. We thought that certainly, he would visit schools and become familiar with programs and initiatives in place. Certainly, he would assess the district’s and schools’ needs and then build on effective programs and develop improvement plans for areas identified. Certainly, he would consult with staff and involve them collaboratively on the road to excellence. Unfortunately, our optimism was quickly squelched by directives and intimidations.
We found ourselves on the bus that was supposed to be headed to “excellence”, but it became very clear that the driver of the bus was not open to any suggestions and the road is very turbulent! The driver often looks into the rearview mirror and yells to the passenger, “You are either all the way on the bus or you will be put off the bus!” The bus goes silent….inwardly we cry what are we going to do?
Yes, we waited for the sharing of experience, but instead we were given directives and programs from the Scholastic playbook for “School Turnaround and Transformation–A Comprehensive Review.” It can be found at http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/EdGroup_SchoolTurnaround.pdf
Page 2 states:
“AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO CREATING A CULTURE OF CHANGE. Scholastic has partnered with the International Center for Leadership (ICLE) who have worked with some of the largest, most complex districts in the country to turn around low-performing schools. Data is at the core of their approach to culture change.”
On October 24, 2012, our district paid the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) $37,961.00 for consulting fee. Which schools are failing–2 of 28 schools? Are we paying this enormous fee to have Scholastic lead our schools? You decide.
On page 4 of the same playbook, Scholastic notes the following:
“Four Turnaround Models with Literacy Improvement at the Core R2T and SIG guidance outline four possible models for turning around failing schools. Whichever model LEAs choose to implement, raising literacy achievement should be at the core of ANY school turnaround effort: Barring the school closure model (Option 3) Scholastic is prepared to play a central role in any effort to raise literacy achievement in low-performing schools.”
In each of Scholastic’s models, they advocate in the first line “school must replace the principal.” Who will then lead the school? “Scholastic will partner with new school leadership.” Therefore, any principal who is not a proponent of Scholastic will be replaced with pro Scholastic administrators.
Is this far-fetched? On July 25, 2012, our superintendent paid Scholastic $129,323.00. Some schools were provided with Read 180 labs and administrators were provided with data training. None of these were the results of a needs assessment. They just happened.
One data consultant was limited this year in what support he could provide to schools. The superintendent stated “I don’t believe in being wedded to one vendor or consultant.” An email was sent stating that if a particular data consultant is to be used, the request had to be approved by the superintendent. However, it appears that if the district is not wedded to Scholastic, it is certainly having an elaborate affair! It was made very clear that no programs or consultant will compete with the superintendent initiatives. Sumter School District needs leadership that is collaborative and not bedfellows of high priced vendors.
Finally, the famous Sweet 16. Has it been vetted in a district prior to Sumter School District? Has it been vetted by education research specialists? The answer is NO! It is vigorously defended despite being badly flawed. Teachers are observed and then given feedback a month later. The instrument is faulty. In South Carolina, we have SAFE T. Why don’t we use a proven and recognized instrument?
The ride is bumpy. Trying to hold on. The driver is making the ride uncomfortable for all the passengers. Do we dare get off the bus in a weak job market? All of this being unfolded in front of new and potential businesses coming to Sumter. We were attracting major business to our Sumter community. Education impacts more than teachers and students. It impacts our community.
Directive control style leadership may have been needed to consolidate two districts; however, it is not the style of leadership that will take us to excellence!

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School Board Meeting Public Participation 11/26/12

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