Successful change takes courageWritten by Steven Flagg | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo Public School’s transformation plan will become a reluctant success. This major change would never have seen the light of day if voters had not forced the changes by denying TPS new tax dollars for more than a decade. It also took a group of young administrators willing to blow up the old middle school model that was failing miserably.
Evidence is mounting that test scores will improve in the second year and that rates of disciplinary actions are declining – in some cases dramatically. All the positive outcomes result from creating a K-8 model that emulates a smaller school environment by having fewer students in the same grade in a setting where the students are part of a community that knows them and their needs while offering the continuity and consistency that goes with spending nine years at a school with the same teaching staff.
That it has taken two years to begin seeing the fruits of the effort was expected by the critics and cabinet alike. It will take longer for the true impact of the improvements to become evident and to maintain sustainability. It will require even greater effort and a major organizational attitude change to take the next steps toward academic excellence.
The only group that seems oblivious to the need to stay the course with this effort is the Toledo Board of Education although members of the Board have been quick to take credit for the work of a dedicated staff.
Just at a time when success is at their doorstep the Board has sent their superintendent packing threatening the sustainability of the plan and the cohesion of those responsible for driving, what for public education, is radical change especially in the highly moribund, rigid and onerous atmosphere created by TPS labor contracts.
While the transformation plan appears poised to produce positive results it does have a glaring defect that seems entrenched in the TPS bureaucratic mindset as exemplified by how this Board operates. It fails to define measurable benchmarks and establish feedback mechanisms to ensure accountability. It also lacks the means to access the results so methods and programs can be adjusted to maintain or build upon improvements or terminated if warranted.
The Board has four primary roles: 1) Establish long term direction including policies and directives that meet the mission and community obligations. 2) Assure compliance with applicable statutes and good ethical practices. 3) Establish and assure accountability for meeting the district’s mission through benchmarks, feedback, analysis and individual performance. 4) Act as a community liaison between the district and its constituents. After all, these are the elected representatives that are the voters’ voice in matters of educating Toledo’s children.
Grading the Board on these four criteria would at the present time result in a failing grade.
On April 3, 2013 Evergreen Solutions will present a draft report to the Board and public detailing their findings and recommendations resulting from a performance audit sanctioned last year.
The final report is likely to include some recommendations that will challenge the status quo – especially existing labor contracts – and place the Board in a difficult position if they fail to take appropriate action.
Past Boards have found it impossible – mostly for political reasons – to implement recommendations from previous studies, audits and plans. The history is long and littered with reports gathering dust on the shelf.
If ever there was a need to develop a plan that includes establishing accountability and a timeline for implementing recommendations, methods for feedback to improve implementation, processes to handle obstacles such as conflicting labor contract provisions, and a systematic approach to keep the community informed throughout implementation, it is now.
This Board needs to be upfront about the challenges and enlist community support. A community group consisting of a wide range of interests including the critics to oversee the implementation effort would be an excellent tactical decision. But with a Board bent upon control and obfuscation, we can’t expect them to see the value of such an approach.
Failure to use the performance audit to improve operations – specifically student outcomes – in a situation where this Board has been handed political cover will result in more levy defeats. It would likely be a fatal blow to TPS as it becomes a less relevant educational choice and viewed as an option only for the poor.