Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Where you at? (After the dust has settled.)

As most, if not all, of the readers of this blog know, the contract dispute which spawned this blog has ended. A new three-year contract has been ratified.

The settlement that was finally agreed upon was almost surrealistic in its simplicity and fairness. It was a settlement that was overwhelmingly accepted by the teachers' union. (It also benefited other bargaining units who got similar offers.)

Had this offer been made earlier in the process... then it is likely that most of the difficulties that followed would have been avoided. But then, this dispute was simply part of a larger conflict.

My connect-the-dots conclusions?

1) The District unnecessarily wasted a lot of time, money, and goodwill in its fight to negotiate a new contract.
2) The District's lack of transparency, honesty, and care for its employees was unveiled. (The lip-service never stopped, but actions speak louder than words.)
3) The School Board's complacency in challenging "facts" and "findings" supplied by the Superintendent's office has been long-standing, and it has contributed to a lack of fairness and balance in District decisions. This complacency is also evidenced in the Board's general lack of seeking input both privately and publicly from other stakeholders in the District.

My connect-the-dots hopes for on-going improvements?

1) Voters have infused some new blood (and hopefully accountability) into an anemically performing Board via the election process.
2) Board members are beginning to ask a few meaningful questions, and/or calling for a delay in making decisions until they become better informed.
3) District employees are more on their guard regarding the District Office's oversight.

My connect-the-dots wait-and-see concerns?

1) Will the School Board evolve into a more informed, independent body that regulates the Superintendent, instead of vice-versa?
2) Will the voters and families of Lowell Joint continue to press for honesty, transparency, and change?

Although the contract disputed spawned this blog, that dispute was simply the tip of the iceberg. That dispute brought a sharper focus to what problems the District faces as it moves into the future. The problems are not chiefly economic: it's not the economy...

A telling feature in the new contract is the lack of "new" language that the Superintendent was seeking to add on many issues.

Why is it not there?

After the main economic disagreements were resolved, the union negotiators said something to this effect, "You want to change language? So do we!"

Given that prospect (and the changing political climate), the Superintendent dropped the call for "new" (and controlling) changes she had been seeking. By this time in the process, there was much more pressure from the Board and Public to settle the dispute.

One on-going concern?

The iceberg isn't gone.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hypocrisy Masquerading as Honesty

More than 70 teachers, staff, and community members attended the October 18th Board Meeting. As members exited the closed session at 7:30, they were greeted by 70 plus chanting, picket carrying, unhappy employees who lined corridor leading to the multi-use where the meeting was held. Again, the Board chose not to reorder the agenda, making the teachers wait over an hour to arrive at the public portion (Items not on the Agenda), where five speakers had signed up to speak. Five times three minutes: 15 minutes... relegated to the meetings end... because employee and community input is not valued; although, the Board pretends it is. Here are the notes I spoke from:

Hi, it's me again.
The last Board meeting began with a resolution for Character Education month.
Mrs. Averill felt that honesty needed to promoted. And it was.
How nice.
But after all, this is Lowell Joint where honesty is valued?
Or is it?

Hypocrisy is the act of pretending to have beliefs and virtues that one does not actually have.
Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie. (Wiki-pedia)

After welcoming the public and presidents at the last meeting...
You proceeded to cut short one of the public speakers; although there were only two.
I thought you said we were welcome?
Perhaps you meant to say,
"You're welcome just as long as you sit and play nice. Be seen, but not heard... the grown-ups are talking."

And who was it you gaveled? Your own Teacher of the Year.
She's the best of the best... and you can only give her three minutes?

Maybe that's not too surprising, since not long ago you did the same thing to the president of the CSEA.
That too smacks of hypocrisy.

You pretend to welcome us, but you are unwilling to listen to us.
You might protest, but I simply point to the minutes from the last meeting...
There was a slight change in language...
"…public opinion will be limited to 1/2 hour…”
Not satisfied with a three-minute per person cap... someone suggested to the board that a 30 minute cap was a good idea.
Just in case?
The previous language was good enough for decades... but no longer.

Recently CSEA voted against an offer made in negotiations.
One member was appalled at how much language had changed.
Language that had little or nothing to do with a salary schedule or compensation.
Why was it changed?
Just in case?
The previous language was good enough for decades... but no longer.

A recent newspaper article quoted the Superintendent as saying, "We know how the teachers feel..."

We are skeptical of your language changes... we feel repeatedly hoodwinked.

Little language changes... buried in the notes... or contract... or where else?
We feel lied to.
And you should understand.
What other posturing has been done in the contract, in the minutes, behind closed doors, etc.?
I feel manipulated!
And you should understand why.

 You say you value and appreciate teachers,

But you install language to limit our voice (per person),
and you install language to limit our voice collectively (30 minutes).
If this is how you treat us in public...
should we expect that you'd treat us any differently at a negotiating table?

November is coming, and with it some new board members.
Hopefully, they will bring with them a new era in Lowell Joint characterized by genuine honesty.
We're tired of hypocrisy masquerading as honesty.
We're tired of manipulation masquerading as transparency.
But then... you know how we feel.
And, you know why.

Before and after the meeting I spoke with several parents, candidates, fellow staff members, and even the two presenters from LACOE. November is coming... 

Will there be an October miracle? A fair contract? Let's hope so.

Regardless of the contract issues, the voters of Lowell Joint finally have some choice for new blood, new representation, new behaviors, and a new future. The issues of Lowell Joint run deeper than contract negotiations, but then... November is coming...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A (open) letter to the Board: K. Daniel (9/27/2010)

Each of the board members acknowledged the receipt of 18 to 20 e-mails at the last board meeting. A fellow teacher on my campus shared hers with me as well, and with her permission, I share it here:

September 27, 2010

Dear Board Members:

In the first unit of the 6th grade Lit book the Big Question is" HOW DO WE DECIDE WHAT IS TRUE"  Students are taught to confirm, determine, examine evidence, test and investigate to determine what is true.

In chapter 8 lesson 9 of the math text the title is Misleading Statistics.  Students learn to identify biased displays and misleading statistics.

HOW DO WE DECIDE WHAT IS TRUE?  That is the same question I'm asking of you now.  

How do you explain an average third year projection that is 540% off?    How do you reconcile the enrollment numbers?  We know exactly how many students are filling the seats of our classrooms. Do you?

We have an 18% reserve, far more than needed.  And finally, the Job's bill is coming.

All these facts can be checked and verified as being true. It is wrong to lie to us or at the very least "Handle the truth recklessly", as my mom would say.

At times it seems that you forget or lose sight of the fact that you are dealing with educated, intelligent and articulate people.  How is it that the students of Lowell Joint became "Distinguished"?

It is your responsibility to check and verify the facts , as we have done,  Stop taking Dr. Howell at her word.  She doesn't tell the truth. She is building an enormous reserve on the backs of dedicated teachers.  This will not stand.

Thank you for reading this letter.

Kari Daniel

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What do I dream of?

At last night's Board meeting (10/4/10), I took advantage of the opportunity to direct my remarks to those seeking the office of School Board Member since many candidates were in attendance. After the meeting, I was able to converse with several of them. Here is a copy of my speech:

I dream of…

Of a time when teacher input is respected and regarded at board meetings, not relegated to the end of the meeting and restricted by a timer.

Of a time teachers can concentrate on teaching and not contract negotiations.

I dream of Monday Night Football instead of Monday Night Board meetings, because I can trust that those who ran for office are providing the public service they promised.

I dream of…

Of a time when Board Members voice an opinion instead of a party line.

Of a time when Board members can give an informed personal report on the school they represent because they’ve talked with parents, teachers, students, and staff, in addition to remarks prepared by the site principals.

Of a time when Board members understand that Distinguished School Awards have more to do with an experienced teacher’s practice and sacrifice than with a Superintendent's ambition and mandate.

Of a time when the Lowell Joint Board Members begin a Superintendent replacement search, instead of rewarding an unpopular incumbent with a long and luxurious contract extension.

I dream of…

Of a time when the District Office is once again considered a resource and service center instead of a source of requirements, restrictions, and obstructions.

Of a time when the Superintendent is more likely to cut her own luxurious car allowance rather than cutting the noon duty aides salary by 26% to a near minimum wage level.

I dream of when Lowell Joint's Superintendent and Board are not blaming the budget crisis, but are rising to present challenges with inspired leadership, innovation, and fairness.

I dream of…

Parents who are well-informed enough about who will best represent their neighborhoods on the School Board and get out to the polls to make that a reality.

Of a time when new blood on the Board is common and business as usual is a thing of the past.

Board Members and Board Candidates...

What do you dream of?

I dream that some of you will make some of my dreams come true.

Thank you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Root Cause of Many Problems...

Below is the text of a speech I gave at the school board meeting tonight. Several others also spoke to various issues revolving around the current contract negotiations and the lack of progress.

Before I became a Special Education teacher, I spent a decade or so as a Systems Engineer. I even got training in solving organizational problems using a method called Theory of Constraints.

This last Sunday I used my training in Theory of Constraints to analyze several recent conflicts in the District. I was looking for commonalities that might inform me regarding the current contract negotiations conflict.

Here’s what I determined via the analysis:

High level decisions must be made by the Superintendent, such as teacher selection, teacher discipline, and fair resource distribution. The expectation is that the decisions will be fair and equitable. The expectation is that the superintendent’s decisions will be legal, impartial, and agenda-free. Those decisions should be unbiased, fair, without malice, and consistent. In a nutshell, those decisions need to be trustworthy or worthy of trust.

The common, underlying conflict beneath the three scenarios I examined was this: the current superintendent's decisions are not always trustworthy. They were less than impartial, not always legal, sometimes biased and sometimes unfair. The decisions were only reversed after they were persistently challenged by a teacher or a group of parents. The decisions were only changed when a judge, the law, or a vocal group of parents forced the change.

How can this generalized analysis assist in the current conflicts including the current contract negotiations?

We cannot sit idly by and trust what the superintendent says. She has demonstrated repeatedly that she does not deserve that trust. Perhaps some combination of inexperience and lack of expertise may have hampered her, but she is also hampered by apparent personal ambition, a drive to win-at-any-cost, and a leadership style that is not inspirational, but confrontational.

Her behaviors in contract negotiations are simply another instance of her dysfunctional leadership. 

Dr. Howell has retreated from erroneous positions only when others stand up to her, present the facts, and allow impartial arbitrators review those facts. The contract negotiations are heading into fact finding. Perhaps the truth will come out, and she will retreat.

My message is this: we have got to stop trusting Dr. Howell, especially in the area of personnel issues. The contract is ultimately a personnel issue. We need to question her, double-check her facts and logic. We cannot afford  passive acceptance of her half-truths.

The scenarios I examined demonstrate that Dr. Howell is untrustworthy. She is unyielding in her decisions until a higher authority censures her. Her inexperience and lack of knowledge might be forgivable if it were mixed appropriately with honesty, forthrightness, and humility, but it is not. 

We must become vigilant and vocal, so that we can override the erroneous recommendations and decisions that are being made by the current superintendent.

I am here tonight to raise my voice against the erroneous recommendations that the superintendent is bull-headedly offering as a pretense for negotiating a fair contract.

I see a pattern of misinformation and abuse: do you?

Thank you for listening.

(Thank you for reading!)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A New School Year: A Kite in the Wind...

A kite in the wind… that’s my personal metaphor for the new school year.

You might ask, “How’s that working for you, Don?”

And I might answer with a sigh.

I see the wind: the superintendent continues her “spinning” ways, for example… at the “Welcome Back” BBQ she mentioned that if the current budget crisis continues, we could end up with a state appointed administrator who would cost the district $150,000!

I did the math. At a board meeting last year, the Los Angeles budget guru gave the formulae for the cost of a state appointed administrator: 80% of the district’s superintendent’s salary.

$165,000 x 80% is $132,000 not $150,000.  Simple math, simple fact, and simply not $150,000.

It made me think: If that simple number is being erroneously presented as fact, what other numbers are?

(What new “dots” have shown up on your radar?) The wind continues to blow.

Here’s another dot on my radar:

The state rejects our district’s budget and tells us to refigure it without the COLA. The district recalculates the budget and the only thing they do is take out the COLA… it still gets rejected. Of course it does! But now the district can say, “We tried twice!”

 (The second try was not a try, it was a ruse!) At least that’s what it looks like to me… up in the sky… trying to maintain a kite-like perspective.

Is the district administration so bereft of ideas that all they can do is continue to blame the economy and the teachers’ union? (And misrepresent fiction as fact!)

Here’s an idea:

Have the superintendent take a “temporary” pay cut to $50,000 a year. Not only would that demonstrate her commitment to share the economic pain, but it might make it difficult to find someone willing to work for 80% of $50,000 which is… see if you can do the math!

(Or… take a cut to $1 a year… it’s been done before… who would take the job for 80 cents?)

The only problem with this scenario is that, unlike the temporary pay cut that the teachers took, I doubt if the superintendent would be willing to make it permanent, like she’s asking the teachers to do.

Another “aha” moment for me: I suspected the Memorandum of Understanding which made the last two years of temporary cuts temporary would mean that my pay would be reinstated with a restored step and column. The district would never say so, but that’s just what happened.

Of course teachers are being warned not to spend their reinstated salary increases, because a new contract will probably be negotiated that involves retroactive pay cuts to the beginning of this school year. (Actually, the pay cuts will be retroactive for two years… because what was promised to be temporary will become permanent… in violation of the MOU.)

Forthrightness, honesty, clarity… too much to ask? No.

Too much to expect? Yes, as long as the School Board continues to allow this wind to blow unchecked.

In the mean time…. Class sizes are up, budgets are down, and teachers are being asked to do more with less… with more less to come.

Good kite flying weather.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adapt and Thrive! (Some personal dots.)

Recently I read and reviewed a novel by Gerald Weinberg. Jerry is an author whose books have helped me over the years. In doing research for the book review, I reread several of my own blog entries that have helped me gain perspective regarding the current negotiating crisis.

I call it a crisis because it matters to me: it's personal. It's about trust, fairness, honesty, and leadership. Those things matter to me. I am that guy. Things bother me and I muse. I try not to obsess, but I do percolate.

So I was happy to find several posts that helped me get a personal grip on the crisis-de-jour.

The first post I found was called Let Kindness Rule! 

Here's an excerpt: 

All relationships involve a certain amount of patient endurance with the foibles of another; however, some relationships require larger amounts. Those cultures strongly influenced by Christianity acknowledge love and patience as virtues. We acknowledge that love should suffer long: and we try. But…

But we often overlook or fail on the other component of the advice offered in this New Testament proverb: Love suffers long, and is kind. 

What? I’m called to suffer long AND be kind! Ahhhh… there’s the rub: Kindness. While I am being loving and patient (suffering long), I am to do it with kindness. Kindness means no meanness, no sarcasm, no nagging, no belittling, no digs, etc. 

Hmmm… Anybody think that there would be fewer people problems among our friends, family, and community if we practiced this simple axiom: Love suffers long, and is kind?

Let kindness rule!

* * * * *

When I am faced with perceived unkindness, injustice, untruth, and insensitivity I want to get payback. That's my knee-jerk tendency. But after hitting the "pause" button, I am reminded of my core values and aspirations. If I go with knee-jerk, I must might end up being simply a jerk. That's not my aim.

Jerry, in responding to my Let Kindness Rule! post said this, "And people should remember, kindness costs you nothing. Meanness costs you a lot." 

As I begin my school year, with negotiations on-going, I am going to let kindness rule. I'm not sure exactly what that will look like, but I am resolved. (The current negotiations are only a symptom of a larger problem. Perhaps  the November elections will help remedy that problem... perhaps not.)

* * * * *

The second post I found was called Adapt or Die! 

Here are a few of the salient points: 

Changes at work made me want to take up arms, so I cleverly began to read a chapter called “Gaining Control Over Change” from my Secrets of Consulting book by Gerald M. Weinberg.
I expected to get some good advice on how to get people to see things my way, instead Jerry informed me that the best way get changed is to resist change. His answer to managing change was to embrace it.
Another name for embracing change is adaptation. Jerry points out that some organisms adapt in order to survive an increasingly hostile environment. This is also called evolution. Hmmm…
I can manage change by embracing change in an adaptive manner.(Or I can become a dinosaur. And perhaps extinct.)

Those who resist change often begin to act in ways that make them change a lot. Rats. That’s what I’m trying to avoid: big change.

Jerry’s advice on embracing small change in order to survive was comforting. It wasn’t the answer I wanted, but it was one I needed.

That’s why I went to Jerry’s book. He knows stuff. 

* * * * *

I like who I've become... and I don't want to change into something I'm not by reacting to the bad behavior of another.  Things in Lowell Joint's teacher/management interactions have devolved -- they've changed.  "Jerry informed me that the best way get changed is to resist change."

 As the new school year begins, I intend to "...manage change by embracing change in an adaptive manner."  

I'm not sure what that will look like, but at least I know what I'm trying to accomplish: positive adaptation. 

* * * * *

The final post that helped me in my thinking was called The Problem of Apparent Irrationality.

Here are some portions of that post: a rational and reasonable man, my mind has a difficult time following unreasonable orders/dictates/policies. ...

Perhaps you’ve had such bouts with unreasonableness that interferes with a good night’s sleep? But what’s a person to do?

Me? I visited an old friend and mentor: Gerald Weinberg. Now, in reality, I’ve never met "Jerry." In fact, until yesterday, I called him "Gerald." But I do own three of his books, which I’ve read multiple times. He’s a “friend” I sometimes visit when I wrestling with a difficult problem. He’s always there for me, and he makes good sense. He helps me. ;-)

As I read the preface, I was rewarded with a re-framing of my ... problem. I read the following account of Jerry’s approach to dealing with a major challenge of the consulting business:

“Most of the time, though, I enjoyed the direct interaction with my clients, if I could stand the irrationality. If I wanted to stay in the business, it seemed to me I had two choices:

1. Remain rational, and go crazy.
2. Become irrational, and be called crazy.

For many years, I oscillated between these poles of misery, until I hit upon a third approach:

3. Become rational about irrationality.

This book relates some of my discoveries about the rationality of seemingly irrational behavior that surrounds requests for influence. These are the secrets of consulting.”

Since I was currently going somewhat crazy, I recognized that my problem was really 
a problem of apparent irrationality. Once I could name the problem, I was partially relieved, because the correct naming of the problem is often the first step in finding a suitable solution: Become rational about irrationality.

A songwriter once said, “I may not have the answer, but I believe I have a plan…” I don’t even have a plan yet, but at least I know what the problem is.

* * * * *

Becoming rational about irrationality. It can keep you from going crazy. Or waking up in the middle of the night. 

The thinking reflected in this post has helped me sleep better at night and to look with greater hope towards the coming school year. 

What is my intention for the coming year? Adapt and Thrive! (It turns out, that is an option.)

My teacher-in-another-district friend has this quote on his FaceBook profile: "Kites rise highest against the wind -- not with it."

There may be an ill wind blowing, but I don't have to be driven along by it. I can be like the kite and rise up. 

So can you.