School board to discuss 'trust' action
Original post made
by RWE, South of Midtown,
on Oct 25, 2006
My hat is off to Gail price for taking an action that many in the community and within PAUSD have been asking for; she's a real leader.
It's time to shine some light on long-standing staff morale and lack-of-effective-leadership problems brought about by Mary Frances Callan and senior staff.
The only problem I can see with this is that very few, if any, staff - and very few parents - will comment on this in public, for fear of retribution. The latter is largely due to the chilling atmosphere that Mary Frances Callan and some of her senior staff have created within PAUSD.
Thus, we will mmostly have a chance to watch our elected board in action, in the open. My hope is that they will find a graceful way to help MFC - and possibly some of her senior staff - to exit. Our fantastic teacher and administrative corp, our kids, and our dedicated parents deserve far more than they've been getting from the current senior adminstrative leadership.
Like this comment
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2006 at 5:27 pm
One question that comes to mind is "Where is the PTA in all of this?". The PTA Council needs to get *involved*, because persistent morale problems - which, in this case, have been festering for years -DO have an impact on what happens in the classroom. In fact, the latter is THE overridding concern in all of this. We need to get PAUSD under more enlightened leadership, and do it as soon as possible. Recent years of cynical backroom maneuvering, and manipulation of staff should come to an end.
Dissension in this district has ben high since MFC came on board; we all know how dissension and chilling atmospheres can detract from performance. If this problem isn't resolved in a way that brings full transparency back to the district, in a way that brings in senior edministrators who are LEADERS, then what's the point?
Again, when management - especially manageement in a top-down, vertically run administration like PAUSD's - loses the respect of subordinates, it's virtually impossible to recover from that if the old management is left in place. This is a well known organizational truism. What administrator or teacher, or parent, or PTA member who has spoken up in favor of change in the execitive's office will feel confident of not being undermined by administration if MFC and a few otehrs are left in place, especially in light of the chilling atmosphere that these same poeple helped to create?
This Catch 22 operates BECAUSE of senior management; they created it. There's only one way out of this; the phrase "being accountable" comes to mind. We should expect accountability from senior PAUSD management, just as the latter has demanded same from subordinates.
Our teaching and site administration corps have been heroic these last four years, and kept "quiet" about PAUSD's leadership problems. We need to insure that their suffering doesn't continue, and that we get this district back on track, from the top.
Our high expectations for schools in Palo Alto extend all the way to the top; we do NOT want our kids, and the professionals they spend most of their time with every day, to be the recipients of anything other than a top-notch educational experience. ANYTHING that keeps the latter from happening - ESPECIALLY at an executive level - should be dealt with, swiftly.
As for the current board, Dana Tom will be under special scrutiny, because it was Tom who came on board with a specific platform item that promised an inprovement in district comunication. So, why wasn't Tom out front in demanding an open airing of this crisis? If this situation doesn't reflect a need for significant change - in service of more effective leadership and communication - I don't know what does. Dana, are you listening? There are a bunch of us here in South PA expecting more leadership than we've been getting from you on this issue.
We're not surprised that Mandy Lowell and Camille Townsend seem to want to draw this thing out - Dana Tom being the lone surprise in that respect. After all, Lowell and Townsend have the longest-standing relationship with MFC (except for Gail Price) than other members of the board. They're both more traditional in oulook, and frankly, have not been aggressive in questioning MFC's approach toward district personnel, even in the face of evidence that it's been a rough ride since Callan's arrival.
Rather unwavering support of Callan was also true of Barton, Kroynmann, and Toumey - all three of whem knew what was going on behind closed doors, but refused to act. And why should they have acted? In terms of serving political interest, it was in their interest to defend the status quo. Why rock the boat? Their letter to the editor reinforces this notion, and unneccessarily and inappropriately puts their public weight and reputations in play in service of serving THEIR prior decision. We're not impressed.
This is, again, is a reflection of what happens when board members have FAR more interaction with senior staff than anyone else. After a time, one begins to identify with senior staff, and see things primarily from the top, and act accordingly. This is why Gail Price's action is especially laudable, courageous, full of leadership. It's NOT easy to dismiss someone that you've worked with for years. That said, there are responsibilities that come with being a BOE member; primary of those is oversight of the Superintendent.
This might appear a bit cynical, but at this point, we ARE talking politics here, aren't we? After all, if this was viewed soley as an operational decision, which it SHOULD be, and IS, there would be fast, seamless changes made after an obvious show of no confidence by the vast majority of PAUSD administrators. That hasn't happened.
Let's not forget that an elected position to PAUSD is often seen as a "next step" to Council, or other elected position. Have prior PAUSD board members put the word into those who are holding back, warning them that future "support" for their political ambitions may not be forthcoming, unless this crisis can be managed by keeping MFC in place? It's just a thought.
Make no mistake, this board WILL be held acountable for not taking actions necessary to bring in a superintendent who can - at the very LEAST - resonate with her own staff. The latter is BASIC to effective management in a public school system, especially one as professionally staffed as PAUSD.
This is not a time for political maneuvering, and spin. The bottom line is that a LONG-STANDING lack of leadership and political maneuvering finally caught up with senior adminsitrators in our district, starting at the top. At that level, when one receives a courageous vote of "no confidence", practically en masse, from one's own subordinates, there is only one honorable solution.
I wish the board goodluck in this difficult decision; dismissing personnel is NOT an easy thing to do. It's gut-wrenching, and troublesome.
I would simply ask the BOE to think forward, and imagine what this district could be like with a leader who resonates with staff, who enables staff, who is not aloof from serious operational problems, IN ADDITION TO some of the good qualities that MFC has (politically astute, as one example).
IMAGINE where our district could go with someone who can LEAD; IMAGINE a future unencumbered by cynicism, where hard internal battles are fought, but without the establishment of chilling atmospheres and petty recrimination for not "going along". Imagine that; do the hard thing that needs to ne done, clean out 25 Churchill, and then make your, OUR, imagining happen.
Like this comment
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2006 at 2:40 am
This Web Link Weekly editorial is absolutely right on!
If the BOE agenda item dealing with the "trust" issue comes up after 9:00PM, the BOE would be wise to postpone the item and call a special meeting for next week - with this issue as the first and.or ONLY item up for discussion, so that parents who have small children, and others, can attend and speak (if they wish). To do otherwise will be to invite harsh criticism, and suspicion. Yes, this is a difficult issue, but dealing effectively and courageously with leadership is what citizens expect when they elected their fellow citizens to the BOE - it's part of the job description.
Frankly, we're quite disturbed that this item has been placed DEAD LAST on tomorrow evening's agenda, when nobody is likely to be watching at home, or still sitting in the audience. This is a *cynical and manipulative* action that frankly mirrors the general demeanor that has been created within PAUSD during the tenure of the current executive administration.
This issue has been hotly discussed and debated among parents, teachers, site management personnel, and others for weeks, and kept mostly under wraps and behind closed doors until one courageous and responsible BOE member (Gail Price) requested a public airing of the issue.
Our community should have the right to hear how the board intends to manage this crisis, and we should be able to hear this discussion BEFORE the David Letterman show airs!
What does that tell us about who is responsible for constructing that agenda, and what their agenda is? If I'm not mistaken, the agenda is largely cobbled together by the senior executive's office. Is this true? I hope not.
This is a crisis that directly impacts the quality of education that our kids receive; it's a crisis that has to do with what is apparently a breach of the most fundamental responsibilities of executive management in ANY organization - i.e. the necessity and requirement to keep communications open, transparent, trustworthy, and enabling. With all that, it's astounding that THIS issue has been placed LAST on the BOE agenda.
I have personally seen sensitive and/or controversial BOE agenda items put to the back of the line more than once - with important items coming up for discussion as late as 10 or 11PM - or later. This is a tactic that is PURPOSELY meant to discourage citizen participation and/or viewership at the BOE meeting, or on community television. Is the BOE being cajoled by the PAUSD executive team? What is going on here?
Spin and avoidance are NOT going to work this time; we've had enough of that for the last several years.
How many people are willing or able to hang around for hours to witness a discussion about what is probably the largest personnel crisis PAUSD has experienced in a long time, if ever?
It's already quite disturbing that the BOE wants to spend our hard earned taxpayer dollars for 'resolution professionals' to help find out "what went wrong" over the last several years.
What went plainly wrong - and has been wrong for years, as indicated by an extremely rare vote of "no confidence" by the Management Team - is that our senior executive staff, led by Mary Frances Callan, has managed with the kind of hubris that should never be been visited on a professional teaching and administrative staff, no less a professional staff in what is supposed to be one of the finest districts in America...not if one expects that staff to be motivated, innovative, and productive - - to bring out its best.
We're looking for REAL LEADERSHIP, and crisp decision-making, not noodling around with a crucial problem that cries out for *immediate* resolution, instead of the default "decision by process" that this community has become infamous for.
The longer this issue continues, the more cynical the process appears, and the more frustrated all those who are downstream from the toxic management practices that led to this crisis.
When there is a clear failure of leadership, **organizations find new leaders**. Is that so difficult? What part of a vote of 'no confidence' does the majority of our BOE not understand? If some members of this BOE think that calling consultants in to fix maladaptive behaviors that are for all intents and purposes practically embedded within the management philosophy of senior management, they might think again.
Our parent, teacher, and administrative community will be watching this process every step of the way, and will remember - or be helped to remember - any obfuscation, double-talking, dawdling delay or other lack of decisive action in service of keeping PAUSD from having As SOON AS POSSIBLE an executive leadership team that is capable of resonating with staff, motivating staff, helping staff innovate, and keeping the quality of this district as high as we're paying for, and expect.
Like this comment
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2006 at 1:33 pm
IN addition to the obfuscation created by putting that agenda item at such ann inconvenient time, is that fact that the ENTIRE PERSONNEL ENVIRONMENT at PAUSD has been chilled over the last several years. What does this mean for tonight's meeting?
It means that Management Team members probably won't be speaking up, because they've been neutralized with the promise of a "consultant" to come in and solve a systemic problem NOT of the Management Team's making.
It means that the Management Team members, if they DID speak up, given the history of this senior executive administration, would fear retribution in one way or another, should any one of the senior executives continue remain, or fail to get a VERY stern warning from the BOE about ANY kind of retaliation visited on MT members who speak publicly, or teachers.
I've written about thsi before, but it bears repeating. When an organization is run vertically, from the top, as PAUSD is, and systemic communications problems are brought into play by top administrators, it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to regain an atmosphere of trust, even after "counseling", because administrative power STILL resides in the top executive staff after the whole thing is over.
Imagine being put in a position where you have been asked to "spill the beans" about your boss, who runs a top-down organization, with many chances through personnel, class or site assignments, performance reviews, etc. etc. will have an opportunity to retaliate in the future.
Would you feel comfortable coming forward to expose a systemic problem brought on by your senior management's inability to lead and communicate, then letting the whole thing go to some kind of "counseling", or "arbitration", knowing that once the whole thing is over, the same people whoh abused power and created incompetent systems in the first place had a strong chance of remaining in place?
This is what makes the Management Team revolt, and the MT letter, so extraordinary. Every one of the MT people associated with that series of action literally put their livlihoods on the line when they agreed to support that action. It was an act of desperation in the face of a senior administration run amok, and a BOE that *must* have had more than an inkling of some things going wrong. It was a cry for help.
Does our BOE see this whole situation for what it really is? Do they understand the risks of "processing" this crisis to death? Do they have ANY idea what this has done to morale in the district, already. Currently. Superintendent Callan is remaining mum; she's gottern her "out" by playing the "Palo Alto Process" card, and hoping to string this thing out until the energy of those directly effected is completely dissipated.
The current process - with the exception of this evening's meeting (and, that item should NOT be dealt with after 9PM, postpone it, if necessary), has already led to a LOT of frustration by administrators, and teacher - not to mention many, many parents.'
Last, it should be noted that last evening, Partners in Education (PIE) had a meeting to discuss what PAUSD is going to do in the face of a recent study showing that in areas of similar demographic, Palo Alto is FAR down the list in terms of many key academic achievement and teacher/administrator compensation benchmarks? What's up with that?
Is this the kind of leadership that we bought into when we trust a past BOE to bring in Callan. Look what we've gotten from that: 1) a dyfunctinoal communicative demeanor; 2) cynical manipulation of taching and administrative staff; 3) a relative decrease in status when comparing key academic and staff compensation benchmarks to districts with similar demographics; 4) a resultant WASTE of parent, teacher, staff, and student financial and intellectual capital due to this district not firing on all cylinders
It's time for a serious house-cleaning - an adminsitrative overhaul that will breath fresh air and motivation back into PAUSD so that we can become more than the sum of our parts, instead of beeing kept back by senior management deameanors, and operations cynicism that forces our superb teaching and adminnistrative staff to keep swimming upstream to accomplish greatness.
Please, BOE, it **OK** to change; it's **OK** to change in ways that might disappoint the senior administrators that you work most closely with. When you signed on for this job, nobody said that every decisions would be an easy one. This may be yuor most difficult challenge yet. I wish you well, and trust you will keep in mind PAUSD's FUTURE, and not just the temporary discomfort of the moment as you (hopefully) will open an opportunity for PAUSD to install leadership that LEADS. It's been a while.
Like this comment
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2006 at 1:52 am
Wow! We just finsished watching the BOE have its discussion on the trust issue; only one person was there to address the public - no surprise, given the hour.
One thing, it's FASCINATING to see how this thing has begun to get spun, and how fast it's spinning. Now, it's simply a "trust" issue, or a "comunication problem"; it's something out there in the aether that will take a 'professional organzational consultant' and taxpayer dollars and time and lost educational efficiencies to "discover", so that "communication and trust can be improved".
So, we're at a place where the "trust problem" is going to become more about the BOE and the MT (in a negoatiation, with a 'consultant), rather than about the senior staff who created the problem; rather than the senior staff, who are paid big bucks to presumably deploy management structures capable of keeping administrative subordinate revolts from NOT happening (these revolts are a VERY rare thing in public education).
Thus, we have a "professional organizational consultant" coming in to save the Superintendent, and buy time - all the while the "trust problem" will get spun.
We intend to continue to press this issue, and will help the MT to gain some political perspective on just what's going down here, and how their concerns - talked about with such great concern by Callan, Townsend, Tom, and Lowell - are really not "concern #1, as exhibited by the TWO MONTH gap between the surfacing of the problem; as exhibited by the attempt to avoid an open public meeting about this concern (until the issue was forced to a vote by Gail Price).
Thus, that those senior executives who are paid to do their job - and have, by majority MT standards failed to do so - will probably not be held accountable.
We are also going to hold Tom, Townsend, and Lowell accountable for the egregious display of inaction and waffling on this issue. I trust that if any of the latter group intends to run for another municipal office in Palo Alto, they can expect that there will be a committee set up, explicitly to defeat them, with this example of their lack of, or waffling, leadership used as exhibit #1 (and there are others)
So now, a proposal will be sent to the MT, for its consideration. Then, adding MT input, the Board will establish some goals, hire the consultant, who will do the work, report back to the BOE, which will do a determination about what the "problem" is (as if we don't know, already - it was pretty clear in the MT letter), discussions will ensue, new structures will be put in place, taxpayer dollars will be spent, adminsitrative time will be wasted in interviews, and maybe 6-12 months from now the community will have a "result", that will no doubt look like a new set of organizational procedures that everyone is supposed to subsribe to. That's what this thing is heading toward. Palo Alto Process, anyone? Accountability? Forget it.
One of the things that REALLY troubles me about this is that the office of ultimate accountability (the senior executive team, that, so far, has NOT been held accountable, and is spinning away from this problem like a top), will have a representative on the committee (i.e. two BOE members, some MT members, and one executive team member).
The two BOE members (Price and Tom) will be bound by the Brown Act, and not permitted to speak with the other three BOE members about the issue unless they're in a public BOE meeting - but the executive team member will not be so constrained - so he (Scott Bowers) will be able to deliver a blow-by-blow account to fellow senior executives, who will be able to adjust tactics and strategies, and put on a "happy face" in public so that they can keep their jobs. Clever.
It's not easy to say what I'm about to say, because at least two members of the Board (Price and Mitchell) have led on this issue in a way that has clearly been constrained by the three other members of the BOE (Lowell, Townsend, and Tom). The latter are, in our opinion, a BIG disappointment, with Tom and Townsend tying for #1 in the "Disappointment Championship", and Lowell running a furlong behind.
We understand that the BOE wants to get to the bottom of the structural problems that have led to Management Team revolt; that's a good thing, However, it's being spun as something that doesn't demand accountability from the persons who were hired to create a good communicative environment; a motivational environment; and environment that creates a dostrict that is more than the sum of its parts. Where is the accountability?
Here's a rundown on BOE member demeanor, and action this last evening:
First, and again, my hat is off to Gail Price. She showed uncompromising depth of leadership and real courage this evening. I have disagreed with some of her positions in the past, but over and over again, Gail Price shows she's made of measured good judgement that is rare in local politics. I'd support her in a minute if she ran for another municipal office.
Barb Mitchell is the rare politician who can be clear, concise, and do so in a way that disagrees, but doesn't offend. She and Price were gallant this evening, and worked well as a minority to thwart an apparent attempt by the majority to stack the suggested new "Organizational Development Committee" (ODE, a GREAT acronym, don't you think?) with members from the BOE majority, who are clearly in favor of processing this problem to death, and thus keep themselves from having to lead, or make any real decisions.
Dana Tom, in our opinion, has been most disappointing on this issue. He has parried the "communication problem", and spun it out into something that only Jon Paul Satre would understand. Here's a rough paraphrase ofo one of Tom's monologues in this issue...
Tom: "the issue is trust, we need to better understand the nature and scope of the issue - the goal is to have clear and open communication - when you're talking about trust, communication is key - it takes time to build trust - and so on, into verbal nothingness -
What Tom manages to do is to - by default - put the MT group in a bind by defining *their_ problem for them. This is naive, and disconnected from the real MT world.
Tom further went on to say that the "real work" will be done by the consultant. Huh? Dana, we elected you to make decisions, some of them will be *difficult* decisions. So far, on this an other issues, we have rarely seen Dana Tom leading. He's playing it safe. Why? Future political aspirations? Perhaps.
Camille Townsend tried - with Mandy Lowell's help - to get herself appointed as one of two BOE members to the "development committee". Lowell, along with Townsend and Tom, who all caused a delay of open discussion on this issue in the first place, suggested that Townsend and Tom be the representatives.
Mitchell, in a deft move, while answering a self-serving question about goals from Townsend, suggested herself and Price, or possibly Tom. Townsend was last person out, as a discussion ensued - with a waffling Lowell unable to make a decision - that placed Price and Tom on the committee. Thank goodness! At least Gail Price will be present to make sure that this thing is done right!
We are very unimpressed with Lowell's leadership on this issue, and get the feeling that she just doesn't want to go down a path that leads to replacing the Supervisor. She kept talking about how the district values collaboration. I don't see her actions following her words. Collaboration in a large organization is enabled - or not - BY THE PEOPLE HIRED TO RUN THE ORGANIZATION.
What part of that last sentence do Tom, Townsend, and Lowell not understand?
Townsend went on at one point in another attempt to spin away the seriousness of this issue by saying that "we're not alone" in having a problem like this. She lectured the BOE about management school experts, and books written specifically about "this kind of problem". She brought up names of Organizational Behavior experts, and so on. What Townsend accomplished was a belittling of the issue, and a sad attempt to spin it as a "thing" to be treated, rather than a series of events caused by policies created by the PAUSD senior executive team.
Townsend was also the one who suggested that a senior executive team member be on the committee. Given the nature of the problem, and given that the "professional organizational consultant will have the BOARD as its client, why is there an executive team member on that connittee. I mention this above.
What Townsend fails to realize - or deliberately wants to spin away from - is that administrative mutiny in public school settings are EXCEEDINGLY rare. If she doesn't know that, it's quite surprising, as it's easy enough to ask around about.
I would say back to Ms. Townsend that we ARE virtually alone in having this happen. It's disingenuous for Camille Townsend to suggest otherwise. I wonder what's going on in the minds of MT members as they see real problems, brought to the surface at real risk to their jobs, belittled in the way that Tom, Townsend, and Tom managed to do. This was a sad, sad, night for PAUSD - saved only by the courage and smarts of two determined BOE members (Mitchell and Price).
My advice to the MT is to demand FIRM benchmarks and milestones in this "consultancy". I would suggest an EXTREMELY aggressive schedule. the professional consultant should be asked to conduct interviews in no more than a months time. With the holidays coming, this thing is going to drag on for quite a while before anything is done.
I would aslo recommend to the MT that the senior executive member of the committee be compelled NOT to discuss ANY findings with his senior executive peers, under pain of dismissal.
In fact, this 'committee' should be made into a formal committee, with all members subject to Brown Act regulations - otherwise the executive team will gain access to inside information that will further help its spin machine.
Altogether, what happened this evening was not a surprise. It's disappointing only insofar as one hopes that the small chance for something substantial to happen, doesn't happen.
We're now in a situation where taxpayer dollars, BOE time, staff time, etc. will be expended to "rediscover" a problem that has already been pretty well defined by the management team. These actions are the direct result of the influence that Mary Frances Callen has with the majority of the BOE, and that majority's lack of will to act decisively and lead this district forward.
this means that we're going to be living for the next 6 months to a year will the SAME management in pace that caused the problem, with an end result that "new organizational structures" will be put in place, and no accountability from the Superintendent and her senior staff.
In a word, this is tantamount to a betrayal by BOE majority (Lowell, Townsend, and Tom) to our district personnel, who made a cry for help, and have had that cry muffled by delay, undue process, and "consultants" - all in service of that majority's inability to lead.
Last, so as not to forget what led to this situation, we shuold remind ourselves that Mary Frances Callan, Barbara Cook, and a few others have been wreaking havoc with teachers and staff for four years in this district - - ask around. They will continue to do so, only more quiuetly than in the past, because now, at least, they know they are being monitored.
That said, how it is that so-called professional executives who create and run an organization without the MOST BASIC structures in place to encourage good communication and trust are still in their jobs - jobs that are directly superior to dedicated administrators and teachers who DO NOT TRUST THEM?
Where is the accountability? Where is the leadership? Where is the simple, straightforward language (Dana Tom, are you listening?) that admits to a problem, accompanied by the sometimes difficult decisions that oe has to make to correct them.
To Camillle Townsend, who so tried to make light of this issue with effervescent spin by saying that "professional organizations and corporations have these problems all the time" - I would like to mention a few names "Patricia Dunn", "Richard Nixon", "Bernie Evers". Ms Townsend, MANY organizations solve the kinds of obvious problems that are plaguing this school dostrict by REPLACING their executive team, perhaps you should consider that fact - and it is a fact - the next time you begin quoting management experts in an effort to appease the persons you're supposed to be managing.
After all, that's what boards are for - i.e. managing the organization, with *impartial oversight*. Maybe some BOE members need to take a COURSE in Org Development!