I should stop right now, and just put myself to bed. Have some warm cocoa. Read a nice bedtime story. “Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and the red balloon…”
Nah. When you got the itch, you gotta scratch.
I do not mind being taken to task. Don’t mind being held accountable. Don’t really mind having those “difficult conversations” where someone takes you aside and points out: (1) flaws in your thinking, (2) gaffes, blunders, or faux pas, (3) lapses in judgment, or (4) your transgressions, commissions, or omissions. Etc., etc., etc. (I always loved the sound of that phrase used by Yul Brenner in the King and I!) Anyway, I digress.
These comeuppances are not pleasant, and one does not seek them out, but transmitted in relative privacy, I can deal with it. I’m a big girl.
However, to be called on the carpet in front of 1000 VIP’s is a bit much. Causes a bit of agita, a soupcon of angst, and a wee bit of gulping and throat-clearing. Ahem-hem. You all know what I mean.
Too be identified as the one and only bad guy in the room, to be held responsible for single-handedly maintaining the dreaded status quo, and to be publicly chided for a slew of relatively common and, until last year, fairly universal practices—in public, mind you—is pretty outlandish and more-to-the-point—unproductive as hell.
So, there I was this evening sitting at an over-crowded table at the Chase Center at the Wilmington River Front, surrounded by at least 1000 attendees, having just finished off a delicious salad and having paid beaucoup dollars for the privilege, when the keynote speaker began his address. The topic? Education reform. O.K. That’s a common and compelling topic in this state and throughout the country. The speaker was Skip Schoenhals, a local legend for having turned around the fortunes of one of our regional banks, WSFS, and a major contributor to edreform in Delaware through his work with the Vision 2015 folks. Skip shared some interesting comments, some insights, as well as a few choice anecdotes. There I was, listening hard and taking notes, as I am wont to do, about what ended up being a total of at least six recommendations that Skip was highlighting for the audience.
(I have recently learned from a skilled and respected Delaware legislator that the maximum number of points that one should make for listeners at any one time is THREE. This is my new mantra—three’s the limit. Apparently, Mr. Schoenhals had never heard that advice.)
#1: Develop school report cards. Jeez. Is this a new idea? I recall seeing school report cards that included test data and made inferences about school-wide success in the early part of this century. Don’t they do that any more?
#2: Create really high performance standards for our students. I agree, but, isn’t this what we have been talking about and putting into practice for the past 3-4 years? (Not to mention starting way back in 1983, for God’s sake!)
#3: Recognize and reward high-performing districts and schools. O.K. Adding districts to the plan sounds new, but haven’t we had plans that “reward” the highest-performing schools—Blue Ribbon Schools, Lt. Gov. Denn’s school reward program, superior ratings, etc. However, Mr. Schoenhals offered this nuanced suggestion: “Perhaps a strong monetary incentive or perhaps a successful school should be allowed to easily expand. The point is, we must reward high-performing schools and make it possible for them to replicate.” This was when one of the guys near me leaned over and whispered, “So, is it true that you teachers have been holding back all of the great teaching until the money is right?” Yeah, that must be it. Show me the money, and I’ll show you some world-class instruction.
#4: Develop better ways to assist those districts that are not succeeding, including a provision for the state to force changes—without withholding funding. Good idea. Who could quibble with this?
#5: Get the legislature to come up with a system of school finance that’s more flexible than what we have now. Loosen up the regulations; relax the structure; allow districts to spend monies in the ways that best suit their needs. Sounds reasonable–even innovative.
“The legislature should allocate money to the districts in a block grant, one line item that says, educate our children.” Wait. Does he mean give them all of the money—all at one time? Whoa? Really? Just give them the money and let them divvy it up. Sounds tricky and fraught with danger—like the time I decided to take my annual salary as a lump sum—no problem. Just takes a bit of organization, patience, structure, and will-power to work it all out and keep it all straight.
#6: But, the kicker was good old #6. There I was, wondering if the chicken would be juicy, and quite frankly, wondering if the speaker was going to wind things down soon, when out of the blue came the following:
“Finally,…teaching is a true profession, much like doctors, lawyers and engineers. These are professions where people are expected to achieve specific outcomes: cure the patient, win the trial, build the bridge or educate the child, but the practitioner must achieve success in ever changing circumstances and conditions. Yet the teacher’s union, DSEA, insists on personnel practices that are more appropriate for a factory floor than in a profession like teaching. It is a philosophy where seniority drives assignments, transfers and layoffs; and where salaries are based upon years of service and educational level, not on achievements in the classroom. This philosophy is written into state law, so practically speaking a district has no choice but to follow this system. I ask DSEA to continue be a forward thinking union by working with the legislature to change this law.
One size or system of pay does not fit all. Let the districts and the local union determine what would work best for them. With a system that is more reflective of the profession that teaching is, we can then work to get teacher pay to a level worthy of the task teachers perform….educating the next generation.”
Forget chicken. I’m thinking whiskey. STRONG. Make mine a double. While you’re up, get me a Grant’s.
Did he just jump all in my/our doggie doo-doo? Oh, no, he di-int.
[More in my next blog about in what ways Mr. Schoenhals’s assertions are incorrect. More in my next blog about his misrepresentations, misconceptions, and just plain old mean-spiritedness. ‘Cause, Skip has never spoken to me about this topic before, and he has had lots of opportunities, including one just a few weeks ago before, during, or after a meeting at Rodel on December 12 where I was asked to give a report about school improvement goals and accomplishments. I do believe that I conducted myself very nicely on behalf of our organization, as well as for the children and educators in our schools. Plus, he surely knows where to find me.]
So, there I was, sitting up straight, paying close attention to the details, and trying my damnedest to maintain an earnest expression on my face. I mean, I get it. The speech was not for me. This speech was for a particular audience at a particular time. It served a purpose.
Glad I was there to hear it first-hand, so I did not have to hear about it later on. And, quite honestly, I had seen the speech for the first time earlier in the day, as Mr. Schoenhals had shopped it around to others to get feedback and suggestions. However, it played much differently in person—spoken slowly and deliberately, aloud, with inflection, and phrasing, and pause.
One of my tablemates, a damned nice guy from Virginia who happens to have a business in Delaware, came up to me during the break, once Skip had finished and we were awaiting dinner service, and said, “I don’t know how you were able to just sit there and take that. I could not be that cool and calm.”
That’s when it hit me. This was not such a good idea. Not such a wise choice to use a speech at the State Chamber of Commerce annual dinner in front of an audience of 1000 to get in some licks on the Delaware State Education Association—known to the public as the teacher union, even though our members include other education professionals, as well as teachers. The Virginian was not the only person to offer compassionate comments or to express their misgivings about the speech. Interesting. As far as I know, there were only three teacher union people in the room. These guys were not our union buddies.
Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Partners don’t use public venues to scold, cajole, or admonish other partners. Our Executive Director serves on the implementation committee for V2015. We are partners in the Race-to-the-Top initiative. We are recognized for being assertive, but cooperative–even HELPFUL at times. We all focus on our shared interests and deal privately with our differences of opinion. Delaware strives to maintain a unique and positive working relationship among all of its education stakeholders. It is an enviable bond.
I’m not so much angry as I am disappointed, disillusioned, alarmed—and suddenly vigilant. I have just been alerted to possible attack. You know the old saying, “Once bitten, twice shy.” No more Mrs. Nice-Guy. The gloves are off, so to speak.