Mary Frances Callan announces retirement
Original post made
by Tyler Hanley, digital editor of Palo Alto Online,
on Dec 1, 2006
PA Schools Superintendent Mary Frances Callan informed the school board Friday afternoon that she will retire effective next August. Her exact departure date could be sooner due to accrued vacation and other factors. How should this affect the school board's current process of investigating concerns of the district's principals relating to their working relationship with Callan and other top administrators? How will the that process relate to a search for a new superintendent?
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2006 at 11:34 pm
Mary Frances Callan is leaving PAUSD; that's a good thing for everyone, including MFC. I wish her well. This will be a "perfect schadenfreude moment" for some; not me. MFC's tenure has been hard on PAUSD, and her. I hope we learn a thing or two from this experience. PAUSD now has a chance to shine at ALL levels, and fire on all cylinders.
MFC is not an evil, or bad person; rather, she simply never resonated with personnel in this district in a way that would permit her to lead. She was from the very beginning - the wrong person for the job she has finally mustered the courage to resign from.
I don't mean to insult MFC when I say that she simply did not have the right package of leadership or negotiating skills to succeed in this environment (PAUSD). There's no doubt that she has formidable skills in certain areas; I hope that she finds an outlet for those skills in a place where they can be appreciated, and where she will perhaps continue to personally grow in new directions that are informed by her natural abilities, rather than putting those abilities in service of the kind of tasks that the PAUSD BOE (that hired her) defined for her, and put her up to. More on this, in a minute.
MFC's "retirement" letter does as someone else suggested read like a press release. That's the norm in situations like this. Letters like MFC's are staged to help soften the blow of impending doom, and start the process of cognitive dissonance that we all engage when finding ourselves not succeeding, coming up short, or not meeting expectations.
There were little nuggets of truth in her letter (for instance, about Sacramento, and some other things), accompanied by perceptual biases (that most of us are subject to), and then some downright mistaken notions about the demeanor of her tenure. I'm sure that many will guffaw when they read MFC's words about the "atmosphere of trust" that she helped to establish here. That's what I call "cognitive dissonance writ large". Regarding the latter, either MFC has a wickedly wry sense of humor - or more likely, she's striking out in as diplomatic way as she can, at those (clearly a majority of PAUSD employees) who "called her" on her management style, and would disagree in the strongest way possible with her "trust" claim.
That said, the investigation into structural personnel problems within PAUSD should continue. We owe it to taxpayers, teachers, students, administrators, etc. to make sure we learn from this experience, and create a better educational experience and working environment for everyone who is a part of PAUSD.
There were/are other senior executives that have been a part of establishing the current reign of subtle (sometimes, not so subtle), and chilling intimidation. That problem should be addressed in the conclusions of the current study, with great care taken to protect all administrative (and other) personnel who speak up about problems. Necessary changes in personnel should be made, if it's warranted. I would be surprised of Marilyn Cook survives the investigation unblemished. It's no secret that certain senior administrators are held in low esteem for pushing staff around, and making sure that an institutionalized fear of retribution was permitted to take root in dealings between 25 Churchill and PAUSD personnel.
That someone with MFC's style of management was hired in the first place, and that her particular management style and propensity for a certain kind of negotiation style with district personnel was permitted to take hold, bespeaks of a larger problem - a problem represented by the intentions of the board that hired her in the first place, and the way that that particular BOE perceived itself, relative to solving the then-looming problem of personnel cost.
Mary Frances Callan was hired first and foremost as a kind of "enforcer", someone who would "whip the troops into shape" - letting them know who was boss in salary and assignment negotiations, and in administrative functioning. Essentially, the BOE at that time **passed on its responsibility** to manage this problem in a way that would keep the district "whole". Thus, the enforcer role that MFC took on, with mostly full support of the board, with one exception.
That exception was Gail Price, who after a time began to have her doubts, and soon turned off to the aloofness emanating from 25 Churchill an aloofness that lead to a growing groundswell of quiet complaint from PAUSD staff. Price' skill as a BOE member was to try to manage this as best she could. She was very patient in the face of what can only be described as overt belligerence toward staff concerns exhibited by BOE members like Kathy Kroynman, who often appeared to be channeling MFC.
It was Kroynman who helped set the stage for Callan's style. A look at past BOE minutes easily corroborate this claim. In fact, frustrated staffers would often mention Callan's and Kroyman's name in the same breath, when complaining about what they perceived as power plays put into effect to muzzle dissent, or dominate negotiation. Recently, with Kroynman gone, one would hear Marylin Cook's name mentioned along with Callan's in the same way.
All that said, what can we say that we've learned from MFC's reign? That is what I trust the current BOE will be mulling over, at least in private, as Brown Act rules permit. This BOE has an opportunity, with Callan's resignation, to do something special for PAUSD that is, bring its management structure and functioning into the 21st century
It's a little-known fact that the California State Board of Education does NOT require a school district to hire a Superintendent. Is it possible to consider this as an option? Why do we still have administrators, mostly far removed from the "everydayness" of the classroom, dominating the conversation about how curriculum and instruction is deployed. Why don't teachers have a larger say in this? Why don't administrators have a larger say in how programming is carried out? Why haven't we flattened out management structures and chains-of-command at PAUSD?
These questions are asked because administrative practice in public education even in the best districts is antiquated. In fact, 'antiquated' is an understatement. The top-down structure of traditional public school district education was best suited for a time when the world moved at a slower pace; when classroom roles for teachers were less broadly defined, and when more efficient management styles and structures had not yet been invented or deployed. Why are we still managing public education with a management style better suited for 1950's corporate America?
Is it possible to begin thinking about entirely new ways of managing PAUSD? Is it possible to consider that the dynamic nature of change, realized in PAUSD classrooms as a reflection of our rapidly changing world culture, can also be considered as we make decisions about how to manage PAUSD?
We had better start thinking about these questions, and thinking about them hard. PAUSD is a high-achieving district, but that achievement comes at a price to staff, especially when forced to operate and function within the confines of management and operational structures and policies that compel incessant end-arounds by staff and administrators, just to get the "job of educating our youth" accomplished. It's time to listen to the professionals who pull the weight of education, day-in, and day-out i.e. teachers, site administrators, program directors, counselors, etc.
My hope is that following the current investigation we can incorporate new policy into PAUSD management structures. Can we re-invent 25 Churchill? Why not? It's the one last bastion of local educational infrastructure that has remains virtually untouched in terms of how it operates and is structured.
My hope is that the PAUSD BOE will not simply go the same, tired route that it has gone before and thousands of other school districts across America go when they need a new superintendent. PAUSD has not had the kind of leadership it deserves, going back as far as I've lived in this community, which is quite a while.
I hope the BOE doesn't make the same old phone calls to the same old recruiters to suggest the same old "kind" of administrator that's used to the same old public school administrative structures and functions that have been faithfully deployed for the better part of a century, almost entirely without substantial change. Do we really even need a superintendent? Do we need a top-down administrator in what is supposed to be a 21st century institution?
This circle of administrative dysfunction has caused public education, educators, and students even in high-achieving districts like PAUSD - to do heroic work-arounds in order to deliver the kind of education that students will need, to function in a world that is orders-of-magnitude more complex that it was just 20 years ago, with even more rapid change soon upon us.
Will the BOE lead on this issue? Is Palo Alto really an innovative community? Is PAUSD really the innovative institution that it touts itself as being? Can PAUSD adapt to changing times? We're about to find out.
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2006 at 12:43 pm
Tulley, Your question goes right to my point. One can ask, as you have, for successful models of pubic school districts without a superintendent, and then base one's actions toward innovation based on that finding. I ask you: "Is that innovation"?
The fact is, in America, there are few, if any, examples of public school districts that run without a superintendent, with decision-making top-down (relative to the essential management of the organization), that American corporations used in the 1950's.
Here's another question: Why does the State Dept. of Education NOT mandate that a superintendent be hired? Think about that. there the opening to be innovative, to change something, to perhaps hire an administrator with a different charge, or to have a group of administrators run the district. Perhaps we could assign site administrators and teachers to form a management committee, paying members a premium for doing so. That committee would be elected by its own body of members, with citizen and board input. It woudl be accountable, etc. etc.
Here's are some questions for you, and the BOE. Why is a Superintendent of Schools necessary? What *essential* function to education, including the administering of basic services to the district (mostly accomplished by mid-level staff) is delivered by the superiintendent?
There are roughly 1000 superintendents working in California alone. When was the last time anyone saw one of these superintendents working to create inter-district efficiencies, as one example? They don't, and won't. Why? It woudl threaten their jobs.
All said, PAUSD may very well - in fact, probably will - go the route of hiring another superintendent. Look back three superintendents, and tell me if we got our money's worth.
Better yet, ask staff that question. Ask about the incredible management failures of the building program; ask about dissension in the classroom; ask about the frustration of those who pull the weight in the classroom every day having to deal with intransigent senior administrators who march, practically lock-step, to the way things have been done for decades; ask about LEADERSHIP, and how that has ben lacking for a LONG time in this district; ask about having to cover the aloofness and intrasigence of senior management with *extra* work caused by that management; ask about efficiencies in the classroom and site management, and whther any superintendent or associate superintendent has made those functions universally easier.
This is NOT to say that senior administrators are poor performers, or incapable. It's rather to say that the STRUCTURE of management that is deployed (almost automatically, without thinking, out of long-standing tradition) sets public school administrations into a "groove" that leads to problems in the classroom, and beyond. It's not a structure that's set up to drive leadership, nor is it set up to innovate; rather, it's set up to *manage*. In todays and tomorrows world, that's not going to be enough.
Do innovators *who make things happen* (not just 'idea people') look for existing models when they want to jump ahead? Yes, they do. That said, if there are no existing models, they think and deliberate about how to make current systems more functional in ways that are *significantly* better than the way things have worked in the past. That's what I'm asking our BOE to do.
What we (and thousands of other public school districts, nationwide) have been doing for decades is fiddling with classroom "technique" and "curriculum" - changes mostly driven by administrators who are out of touch with what's going on the classroom. There are studies thata show how far out of touch superintendents are from what's going on the classroom. It's no surprise.
Rather than go too far afield, I'll go back to my original challenge to the BOE. Can the BOE find a way to include teacher and administrator inputs that are THE significant weight in who gets hired here as superintendent, or be willing to work with teachers and administrators to invent a structure that would work without having to hire a superintendent?
Certainly, the BOE who hired Callan had their priorities skewed in the wrong direction; that hire was more about "control", and less about "education". I hope we learned from that.
We need to get back to EDUCATION in a BIG way - in a way that meshes with the challenges our teachers and students face, and will face. Can the BOE do that? Is it up to the challenge? Can the BOE innovate to a degree that *makes a difference*, rather than hiring yet another plaiin vanilla administraator who will plug into the same old 100 year old management structure whose functionality has long since been depleted by world events, and the demands of the future. I certainly hope so - our kids, professional teachers, administrators and program directors deserve no less.
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2006 at 12:55 am
'Now What', To answer your question, simply compare the *national* results of American public K-12 education (the original idea of which I am a big proponent), with the results of the American corporation - compared to both institutions in the world at large.
You'll find that up until very recently, the American corporation has performed bettter on the whole that our pubic K-12 education system, comparatively, at an international level, by a pretty long shot.
That analysis would lead you to a performance comparison of "people at the top" in both kinds of institution - CEO's of corporations, and public school superintendents. (incidentally, CEO performance, although qualitatively and quantitatively better than public school performance, has also recently faltered - in fact, CEO's are overrated, in general. I've worked with enough of them to know that as a general truth.
Who's supposed to be responsible, and held accountable - collectively - for the performance of K-12 education? Answer: the person at the top of the district, the superintendent. Why don't we see more superintendents fired, outright, in underperforming districts - or in districts like this one where management styles clash with the embedded culture of the institution, and cause dysfunction? Please, 'now what' do the research instead of generating cute analogies that don't work in the real world.
There is a BIG difference between what's happening in those parts of corporate America that are changing the structural nature of management, and K-12 education, which is essentially stuck in post WWII management structures.
With respect, anyone looking at public K-12 education today, in America, who thinks that school systems are being managed properly, as a whole, is missing the big picture.
Back to Palo Alto. Please answer my question about what *essential* functions to education we get from most K-12 district superintendents, including this district. I'm waiting for a substantive answer.
Now, on to 'Wolf', who wants to compare proposed collaborative management structures in education to the French Revolution, or the Israeli Kibbutz. Wolf is talking apples and oranges, feels like a good argument because there's no good movies on HBO ;) , or simply misunderstands my point.
I think it was clear in my comments that those individuals (teachers and administrators) who would collaborate as a board of professionals to manage a district, would be held accountable. The funny (really, not so funny) thing is that most contemporary K-12 school superintendents are NOT held accountable to firm milestones.
Let's get to Wolf's assumptions about management, which seem to favor top-down authority. There's a BIG difference between executing the goals of public education (the overt success of which many recent small minds have tried to reduce to scores on a test), and the goals of a corporation. Corporate goals are far more time constrained, and exist in a *competitive* environement. if the corporation fails to meet its goals, there are clear - often drastic - consequences. No so in public education.
Maybe school principals would not like the idea I proposed. Maybe teachers wouldn't, either. Why not ask them? Also, a collaborative management structure would NOT lead to running "seventeen charter schools".
In the idea I proposed, there would still be a central office - i.e 25 Churchill. Teachers and administrators would be elected by their peers, with board approval, for 2-4 year stints. they would receive a stipend in addition to their salary for filling this role (this would all cost about the same as a superintendent's salary, in toto). The BOE would make sure that *cohesive* and *accountable* milestones were achieved. It would be a working relationship between elected community members, and professional staff that are *going to return to their old positions (for the most part), after a period of time - instead ofo the current practice with Superintendents, who come to a district for 5 years, play politics, start a mandate or three, and then hop to the next opportunity. What I propose would provide more continuity, and more careful execution of plan, rather than the "re-learning" and operating adjustments that this (and other) districts have to go through every five years (or less), as we (they) accommodate the "next" superintendent. The latter position - and its traditional mnandate - is almost a dinosaur, lumbering forward, lockstep in a management system that's in a perpetual grrove of repitition.
By the way, Wolf, please do try to find a single large body of professionals - like American public school teachers - who are managed at the policy level by another body of persons (in this case, BOEs) who are not (or have not been) themselves a member of that profession. There might be one or two, but I can't think of one offhand. Ask around; ask teachers what they think about BOEs, ask administrators. It makes for interesting conversation - and its educational. :)
Teachers, those who are on the front lines of education - in this district, and others - often have their hands tied by senior administrators, BOEs, and public policy wonks that keeps education from happening in the classroom. I'm not going to get into that discussion here any further; rather, I would like to again exhort the PAUSD BOE to consider my and other inputs about what NEW directions management of PAUSD's educational institution might take.
Again, I would like to see a *significant* weight given to teacher and administrative staff inputs in the final decision about who his to be the next Superintendent, if there is one (and there probably will be, as I don't see this BOE taking the leap I've proposed, above).
We have not properly enabled the professionals who do the work of education every day - face-to-face with our children - *every day*. they need to be listened to, and more carefully heeded when it comes to setting curriculum and other standards. Too much attention is paid to splinter groups, and administrators who play politics with our kids.
If we go the route of hiring a superintendent, we need to be looking for a person who is capable of resonating with PAUSD staff culture *as it is*, without trying to put a spin or stamp on it.
PAUSD has a *superb* staff, one of the best in the country. It's been superb often *in spite of* politically motivated superintendents and splinter groups who want to play politics with education. PAUSD's staff *can* be LEAD to greater heights by someone who has the respect of people who do the everyday work of education, rather than someone who forces end-arounds by staff to get the job of educating our children done.
How about looking for a LEADER that understands some of the more salient issues in American public education today, and going forward; who is familiar with the special challenges in a district with a demographic like ours (stress from overachievement, etc.); who might find ways to reach out to other districts to obtain significant inter-district efficiencies and economies; who is not aloof; who is defined by a *broad* range of professional skills (rather than a specific skill needed to solve a current problem); who is looking forward in a way - and has *shown* - that indicates a strong tendency toward *effective, executable* innovation; who understands how to maneuver at the state level; who has *proven* that s/he can LEAD *forward* a group oif high-functioning professionals; who has *proven* that s/he has made the parts of past districts larger than their respective wholes; who considers staff a working group of peers, and encounters them in a way that leads to organizational improvement and mutual discovery etc. etc.
Sure, it's a big job, but we should demand that the BOE come up with no less.