If I were the super…

April 16, 2012 at 5:36 am Leave a comment

I HAVE NO AMBITION to be the superintendent of a school district.

I think being a teacher in a classroom with real kids, day-in, day-out, hour-by-hour is perfectly useful and sufficient.

Ever met a kid who says they remember the super? They do remember their teachers.

I’m sure many supers do a vital job and are irreplaceable.

But I’m afraid I don’t see it in our district. I think the good work which is being done by teachers in the classrooms of the six Parkrose schools is despite our super and her board, not because of anything our super or school board actually does.

The super’s and board’s out-dated, mechanical, bureaucratic and creatively stifling management-style over the past year has ended in demoralization among staff and students alike as well as the almost universal opposition and distrust of school staff towards the district leadership.

School workers from left Democrat to centrist Republican to Libertarian, proud godless atheist through to devout religious conservative, young and old, female and male, classified to certified… all are united in a multi-partisan spirit against the super and her chair of school board.

That’s quite some managerial achievement.

But having spent a year feeling ever more critical of the actions of the superintendent of my school district and her school board, I think it reasonable to not just criticize, but to say what I would do in her/their shoes. If I were the super…

The board and super have faced choices. They chose the wrong ones.

In a nutshell they chose to divide our community when they could have chosen to unite the community.

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The crisis facing the Parkrose community of students, their extended families and supporters, school staff… those who just live here: None of it is their fault.

Rising class sizes, fewer resources, school budget cuts plus mortgage defaults, foreclosures, gas prices, rising transport fares and cuts in services, job losses, opportunist rents, soaring food costs, plummeting house prices, usury credit rates, deficits… None of this is the fault of anyone who lives, works or studies in Parkrose.

We are all the victims of Wall Street’s continuing scam. It happened, it was caused elsewhere, it was created by other people far away. Many of them are still profiting from our loss. Now we all struggle in the wash, the waves, the tsunami to survive, make some sense of this mess.

Our young people face a bleak future.

None of this is our fault.

We clear up the mess, make the best of a bad job, defend and support our young people, give them hope, cuddle them. Survive.

But we can also fight back.

So, if it’s not our fault… why does the board and super not only insist we should pay, but label us as the problem?

If the low-paid clerical workers, the custodians, the educational assistants had nothing to do with causing this catastrophe, why should they have been ritually humiliated and then see their hours be slashed along with benefits, to have incomes drop below survivable levels?

To see families face foreclosure and eviction?

Even sell wedding rings to pay the rent… a statement that provoked our super to roll her eyes in dismissive disdain, muttering loudly, “they have to have someone to blame, I suppose” for everybody to hear. Madame, let them eat cake.

It wasn’t their fault.

So, why does the school board sanctimoniously decide that teachers should pay? Why should people who are working with 150… 200+ children each day be treated as if they are nothing more than money-grubbing, lazy slackers when they ask for fair negotiations. Teachers didn’t cause this cash crunch.

And above all, why should the students, the children, of Parkrose pay with a lower, less enriched, less creative, far from inspirational education? Educational factory production lines. That’s the formulaic strategy they are pushing in all their jargon-ridden consultant-speak. You never hear the words, engaged, creative, depth uttered with any conviction.

The answer is the board has a wider agenda. In its arrogance it wants to increase its autocratic grip on how the schools are run at the expense of the opinion of everyone else involved. This super has rarely listened to her fellow professionals in the schools, and she seems to have little intention of listening or collaborating in the future.

Our super talks collaboration. But she knows nothing of how to collaborate. The super cannot model collaboration. Imposed collaboration is simply autocratic diktat.

Breaking the school unions is their first step.

With double the number of students daily, time in the classroom up by 15%, prep time cut in half, slashed pay… and the ability to open up the contract whenever. What next? Getting rid of more experienced and more expensive teachers in favor of low-cost inexperience… the implemented plan in neighboring Gresham-Barlow school district?

To get away with this farcical treachery, the teachers and the school staff need to be labelled the problem. Except, gutting the teachers, the clerical staffs, the ed assistants and their unions… this will not solve the real problems facing the schools and the community.

Anyone who has been to a school board meeting and has observed the vaudeville show knows how the board and super really feel about their charges.

Go to a Parkrose school board and watch your board’s behavior:

❏ its open irritation,

❏ the disdainful body language,

❏ the self-important preening, posing and mutual self-congratulation,

❏ listen to the school board chair’s pompous and ill-informed lectures on education 101,

❏ listen to the super mumble too loudly to herself about her audience and watch her scribble angrily, screw up her notes and throw them to the floor,

❏ witness the embarrassing scripted performances,

❏ the tellings off,

❏ the threats to gavel the meeting closed…

❏ and rude disengagement when faced with community members… on the one hand patronising, the next projecting themselves plaintively and pathetically as the victims…

Watch the exasperation of the board when faced with Parkrose teachers, staff and community.

When members of the public speak up, the board responds by making it as difficult as possible for them to have their voices heard by putting them to the back of the agenda. Equal opportunities, transparency, respect for the community. Forget it.

Tone is everything. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The board has loudly broadcast its true feelings clearly at every meeting. Contempt for everybody, but those who caused the problem.

For the school board, for the super… the teachers are the problem… the ed assistants are the problem… the clerical workers are the problem… the custodians are the problem… the community members who disagree are the problem… anybody and everybody are the problem… but not those who caused the problem.

+++

The board made the wrong choice. Was there an alternative?

Yes.

The super board could have chosen to say… we are all under attack in Parkrose. We all, united, will defend Parkrose.

We, the community will unite. The students, their families and supporters, the  clerical staff, the custodians, the ed assistants, the volunteers, the teachers… the school board… we will all unite, together, in mutual respect and support to demand a fair deal for Parkrose.

In such a climate, better, collective solutions would have been found, would have grown out of the community. With a real voice school staff may have willingly made yet another share of sacrifice, indeed as they did last year and as they have offered to do o again, now.

❏ We would march through our community. Together.

❏ We would go to the state Capitol. Together.

❏ We would go to the Governor’s office. Together.

❏ We would go to Washington. Together.

❏ Together we would campaign to save and build Parkrose, its schools, communities and services.

❏ Together we would voice that a society is judged by its priorities, the choices it makes.

Remember the old 1970s bumper sticker… “it will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

Today we might say “it will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the CIA has to hold a bake sale to buy a Predator Drone” at $20 million per system.

Our sophisticated, all-knowing board would call such a sentiment naive.

But it is such simple, unsophisticated but profound and honest sentiments, when they are the rallying cry of the many, that bring change.

Read history. Not the history in for-profit school textbooks, but the real history of the ordinary people.

Perhaps taking another look at the $206 million earmarked by the governor for online charter schools staffed by unqualified out-of-state teachers might be a start if the board wants a less naive solution.

Then there’s the cost of the Bush tax cuts to the top 5%, some $1,084,840,000,000 and rising by the second lost to the US Treasury since 2001… none of it is trickling down to Parkrose.

Then there’s the budget for war, more than the rest of the world combined… developing ever more innovative ways to slaughter poverty-stricken, brown innocents in parts of the globe thousands of miles away in places that US students can’t find on the map. While our schools are starved of funding and our students of intellectual enrichment as they train for tests.

It’s a question of priorities. What you think is important. It defines your civilization… indeed, it is a test of whether or not you are civilized as a society, it is a gauge of your level of maturity as a civilization in the court of world opinion, a marker of your development as a civilized entity.

People make budgets, make decisions on priorities… there’s nothing sacred, dropping down from the sky on tablets of stone dictating how America spends its public monies. People make those decisions… we need to demand to be at the table and change the priorities.

The board and the super didn’t say any of that. They chose not to. They chose not to lead. They chose to say everybody else is the problem… except those who caused the problem.

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❏ For information on the Parkrose teachers’ union, the Parkrose Faculty Association, see parkrose-faculty.org

❏ Like PFA on facebook, Parkrose-Faculty-Association

❏ Follow Parkrose teachers on twitter.com/parkroseteacher

❏ For Gresham teachers see www.gbeaonline.org

❏ For Reynolds teachers see www.my-rea.org

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Entry filed under: What's on the PiFactory blog.... Tags: , , , , , .

Defend Parkrose schools — it’s about time The Hungerford papers: playbook to break the teachers’ union

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