on Leadership: 2002
pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed
to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.
I’m not particularly nostalgic. I don’t pine for the good old
days because I am not certain that the “good old days” were all
that good. But I must admit that I do look back often to evaluate
where I am in relation to the course I have set for the Council
of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) and myself. Those
of us in education leadership positions know that constant evaluation
serves to help us either stay or modify the course. We need to
know our history so than we can move forward.
Last year at this time, we were still reeling from the events
of 9/11. Our spirit was dampened. Our sense of safety was shaken.
We clung to each other for solace and support. We shelved our
personal fears so that we could sustain the equilibrium in our
school communities and give strength to students, parents and
faculty. We didn’t have time to equivocate or evaluate. Clinging
to our respective visions, we used every skill we possessed to
meet the challenges of the moment and those yet to come. We did
what we do best; we led.
In spite of the shifting sands of politics, policy and power surrounding
education, we forged ahead. The shadow of the previous mayoral
administration gave way to the unknown in the form of a newly
elected mayor and political unknown, Mike Bloomberg. Calling for
control of the Board of Education, he talked and he testified.
We talked and we testified. Everyone who cared, talked and testified.
Ultimately, control over education was transferred to the new
mayor with one caveat–if this new governance structure fails to
meet expectations, it will “sunset.” (CSA advocated for this provision
in the governance law.)
Harold Levy continued on as Chancellor. And the few years of educational
“plenty” came to an abrupt end when the city and state surpluses
suddenly disappeared. There was the promise of a court ruling
in favor of equity funding for NYC students and suddenly it was
whisked away into the abyss of judicial appeals. Then just as
suddenly, Joel Klein of Microsoft prosecutorial fame was named
Chancellor. No matter the speculation, the whispers, the arched
eyebrows and the voices of the cynics, we concentrated on teaching,
learning and leading the way. We challenged the cynics and welcomed
the opportunity for renewed focus on school leadership.
The Board of Education became the Department of Education. No
matter, we forged ahead in our schools and in our respective offices.
Looking at data, evaluating the quality of instruction, staffing
our schools, working with parents, we only hoped that the promise
of more flexibility would come to pass. Some did, but it hardly
matched the promise that was extended to us. Chancellor Klein
introduced his new team.
We wonder about the rhetoric. We wonder about the commitment to
public schools. While the teachers settled their contract along
the pattern we set in our last contract, CSA members are still
without a contract and our Day Care/Early Childhood members have
been told that there is no mon ey for their contract even though
they hold the future of our public schools in their hands. They
provide the early education so vital for success in school. Yet,
because we so fervently believe in public education, we dare not
give up hope.
Times of plenty have become times of fiscal poverty. The phrase,
“Do more with less!” is an echo of the past and one that has been
disastrous for our schools. Our state educational standards are
among the highest in the country and our NYC funding is the lowest
in our state. Still, we are moving forward into uncharted waters.
The promise of a dramatically different organizational structure
and a renewed focus on school leadership offers exciting possibilities.
Leadership is not static. It demands continuous learning, redefining
and honing our craft. Constant evaluation and modification provide
the ability to persevere in pursuit of a vision. According to
Chris Agyris, when leaders are subjected to an organizational
culture that makes them “dependent, subordinate and submissive,”
frustration and conflict will lead to diminished results. The
culture of our organization(s) must change, if we are to move
forward effectively. Change is both exciting and unsettling. Yet,
I believe we are ready to view constructive change in a new light
and wrestle with the challenges that will most assuredly be presented
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