Flagg: Powering up success at TPSWritten by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Applause! Applause! It’s not been often over the last several years that you catch the Toledo Board of Education doing something right, but it happened last week. The board decided not to pursue a levy this November.
My grandmother always told me that when you catch someone doing something right, let them know about it. Reinforce the behavior in hopes they just might keep it up.
This time the board realized that as part of the greater community, they needed to consider all the issues impacting Toledo. They listened to members of this community who told them a new levy was not affordable given Toledo’s economy. Community members from diverse backgrounds advised board members that Toledo Public Schools has a long track record of broken promises, ineffective programs and lack of success in improving student outcomes and that it needs to prove itself before approaching voters.
There has been a change in the mindset at TPS and many of the new administrators urgently want to be successful. They understand that asking for a new levy without a plan, without need and urgency and without some success would just reinforce the perception of business as usual at TPS. They want to break that cycle, create success and build a healthy working partnership with the Toledo community. We should support their efforts. They will need support as they attempt to change a culture that does not value its employees and even less so its students.
In a June meeting, Superintendent Jerome Pecko told us a levy proposal was being prepared for board review. Much of the TPS bureaucracy — especially TPS unions — wanted to proceed with a levy regardless of the prospect of a levy defeat in November. This time the board did not fall in line and bow to internal pressures. Perhaps this is the beginning of an era when the board acts in the best interests of the entire community, challenges the bureaucracy to succeed and holds employees accountable for results.
Before a levy is possible, TPS has a lot of work to do. TPS is in the midst of a major operational restructuring with the K-8 model, implementation of Race to the Top — which includes reconstituting staffs at some schools and creating a pay-for-performance system, completion of the next phase of TPS’ transformation plan that includes changes at the high school level and more, all while having to negotiate each change with its labor unions.
A year — even two — will not be enough time for TPS to show substantial or sustainable progress in areas like test scores. I do think some benchmarks are needed for TPS to evaluate their ongoing progress and provide reports to our community. Nothing is stopping TPS from reporting student improvement by teacher on a value-added approach — net change in student scores over the school year. TPS can’t pay teachers for performance without negotiations but the contract does not prohibit performance reporting. There is a need for TPS and its unions to be collaborative partners. Progress reporting is coming. Embrace it and use this process in a positive fashion to develop and improve staff performance.
TPS can demonstrate a change in business as usual by planning changes at the high school level in an inclusive way with employees, parents and community. TPS administrators are in the habit of creating and putting a plan into action without asking questions or involving others early in the process. Consequently, no one knows what ideas and options are considered and evaluated. The universe of ideas assessed and proposed is limited by the experience and biases of the administrators involved. Such an approach always leaves nagging questions unasked or unanswered.
If TPS wants to prove this is a different district, it has ample opportunity through the way it conducts business, informs and interacts with the community and plans for future changes. We have to hope the board and administration at TPS are sincere and able to deliver on their promises. We need a good education system to power up Toledo’s economy in a world that becomes more competitive each day.
Steven Flagg is a member of the Urban Coalition.