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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