Earlier I wrote a post regarding the factors that needed consideration in making the Drew Charter High School decision. As part of that post, I considered it necessary to establish who the Board of Directors and the Superintendents constituents were and the prioritization of these groups in the decision making process. I strongly believe that a thorough understanding of who is in each group, what each groups responsibilities are, what priority each group has in the hierarchy and how each group will be impacted by a decision is critical to a decision process that is fully in the best interests of the constituent groups and the APS system as a whole. To that end, I want to expand a bit on this part of my prior post.
The Consumers – the system is in business to meet their requirements
- Students – the education of the students is the primary mission of the school system and therefore the students are the highest priority and stand at the top of the hierarchy. The benefit to the students must be the first consideration in any decision made. Additionally, the student body must be considered as whole, as relevant sub-groups and as individuals – a balancing act that is often difficult to achieve. However, when positive decisions can be made that benefit a some students or sub-groups with only a minor impact on the rest of the student body, the action should be taken and all efforts made to mitigate the minor impacts to other students. In return for placing the students at the top of the hierarchy, they have a responsibility to perform on their end of the social contract which includes attending school, respecting their teachers and putting in a reasonable effort to learn. If they comply with their end of the bargain, then they earn their top place – if not, the consequences should be immediate and severe.
- Parents – the parents of the students have the highest vested interest in the education their children receive. Study after study has shown that the more involved the parents are in their children’s education the better are the educational outcomes. All efforts to capture their passion and their involvement must be made (within fiscally reasonable boundaries). At the same time, parents often want to protect their children from minor dislocations (changing schools, redistricting, etc.). While this is admirable and their concerns must be addressed, minor dislocations or disruptions to parents and students resulting from reorganizations of schools or districts should not be high on the priority list or a major influence on decisions that are necessary to maintain an efficiently operating school system. Additionally, the parents have the primarily responsibility for enforcing the social contract the students have with the schools. Parents that are not involved with the schools or with their children’s education and conduct lose their right to such a high position in the hierarchy.
The Front Line Troops – they must deliver on the promise to the consumers
- Teachers, Paraprofessionals, Media Specialist and Guidance Counselors – The importance of this group cannot be understated and they are critical to the success of the students as they interact with them on a daily basis. Having a highly capable, competent and motivated team of teachers, paraprofessionals, media specialists and guidance counselors is absolutely essential if the school system is to deliver on its mission. As part of the social contract, we entrust them with the responsibility of motivating and educating the students. Their views and opinions on improving student educational outcomes must be listened to and fully respected, they should be paid well (but not higher than similar positions in the private sector in the community in which they work) and they must expect students and parents to live up to their end of the social contract. Given their critical role in the system, they must be held to a very high standard of performance – those that meet the standard should be rewarded and those that do not need to be removed immediately. Failure to do so is a crime against the students and demoralizing to the rest of their high performing colleagues.
- In-School Administrators (Principals, Assistant Principals, etc.) – this group includes everyone with the responsibility for leadership, standards and administrative infrastructure at the school level. They must establish the performance standards for everyone in direct contact with the students, hold them accountable for the standards set and establish an environment that is conducive to delivering a high quality education to the students. Further, they are there to make sure that those individuals with the direct responsibility for educating the students are not hindered in performing their jobs. The In-School Administrators must be held strictly accountable for the performance of the schools they lead and also be given the authority and resources needed to carry out their responsibilities. **Update** – Superintendent Davis seems to agree with the “accountability” part as he was quoted in the AJC article by Jamie Sarrio as saying “on many occasions he believes principals have a “duty of care” and should be held responsible for what happened at their schools”.
- Operational functions – these individuals are critical to creating a clean and safe environment in which students learn. While they are often ignored, they keep the schools clean, they keep the buildings operating, they operate the bus service, they provide meals and they provide a safe environment in which the students can learn. When they fall down on the job, chaos ensues and it is difficult, if not impossible, for the rest of the school system to operate effectively. Often, they are forgotten heroes – let’s remember how important they are to an effective system. At the same time, they have a responsibility to be cost efficient as they carry out their responsibilities.
Infrastructure & Leadership – they must build and lead an efficient organization
- School Administrators – these individuals are responsible for establishing the infrastructure that allows the in-school administrators, teachers, media specialists and guidance counselors to be more effective in doing their jobs. Their job is to set overall policy and standards and then hold people accountable for them. Then they must get “out of the way” and let the front-line troops do their jobs. They also have a responsibility for implementing new programs and reforms, but must also establish the clear benefits, improvements and outcomes that are expected from implementing those reforms. And then they must be strictly accountable for achieving the results that they anticipated. How often have we seen “reforms” started, with hazy objectives and no timelines, that are measured based on the “goodness of the intent” versus the documented results? If this group asks for more resources, they must establish clear objectives and then be strictly held accountable for the results achieved.
- General Administrators – these individuals are responsible for establishing the required infrastructure needed to effectively serve the needs of the instruction and operational functions and to do so as cost efficiently as possible. As the with the school administrators, they are supposed to be the experts in their areas of responsibility. Excessive use of “outside consultants” brings into question their level of expertise. They are responsible for solving infrastructure problems and knocking down the barriers that get in the way of the front-line troops delivering to the consumer. Their complaints and excuses should only be met with one response – fix it or find another job. Their demand for more resources should only be granted if they can demonstrate the tangible benefits of improved results and they must be held strictly accountable for the results which are based on clear performance standards, documented metrics and cost efficiency. These individuals are highly paid for their expertise – our expectations for results from them should be high and uncompromising.
- Board of Education and Superintendent – as the leaders of the organization, this team has to set the overall direction and objectives for the school system. They ultimately have the responsibility to weigh all the factors and interests of the constituent groups and the system as a whole and to then make the decision. Once the decision is made, the Superintendent has the responsibility for executing and implementing the decision. Further, the Board of Education has the direct responsibility to the voters and taxpayers to be judicious and prudent in their use and allocation of funds. Ultimately this team is responsible for ensuring the mission of the school system is achieved as effectively and cost efficiently as possible.
Investors – the money source that expects a solid return on their investment
- Taxpayers – ultimately, as taxpayers, we are the shareholders and investors in the school system and we have a right to expect excellent results from the system we are paying for; we have a right to expect prudent and responsible stewardship of the taxes paid; we have a right to expect high standards of performance and we have a right to expect excellent results in the education of our children. And while I place the taxpayer at the bottom of the list in terms of priority, when budgets are being prepared, when resources are being allocated and when reorganizations are being considered, then the taxpayer is at the top list in terms of consideration.
Of course, after setting up the constituent groups above, their priorities and their responsibilities regarding decisions that must be made, there will always be conflicts and the balancing act required is a tough job. However, Board members have willingly stood for election and in turn have selected the Superintendent. As such, they have willingly accepted the responsibility for making the tough decisions and we, as voters and taxpayers, have the responsibility to hold them accountable for their success or failure in doing so.