Internal Commotion (on #phled hiring)

I don’t normally dwell on news analysis. For one, it’s usually boring. Second, there are significantly smarter people than me who do this sort of stuff.

So when the District plans to spend a couple million on suits at their Headquarters, I can count on some intrepid reporters to do good work. However…

The beef: Our District is broke, but still beefing up bureaucracy. This is certainly compelling; it’s hard to argue a six-figure “director of external relations” is more important than 10 nurses. Compelling, but a bit disingenuous. Important people were highly excited for Action Plan 3.0. Hiring more administrators in lieu of nurses was a clear goal in that plan. When Superintendent Hite said he needed more “flexibility” in staffing, what did people think would happen?

Though plenty of good people are dealing with this, there are two issues I don’t see being tackled. Prepare for tackling.

The Philadelphia Student Union1 did yeoman’s work in researching the new hires. They focused on the candidates’ void of experience in public schools, or their active role in kneecapping them. That’s important and worth reading.

But let’s assume the best of Hite. Perhaps these people are highly qualified professionals who want to help our kids. They also have a long and well-documented history of jumping ship.

James Harris, the new executive director of operations, has gone from Dayton to Springfield to Philadelphia in the span of 5 years. I applaud Christina Grant for leaving the simmering sycophant swap on which CAN network sits, but her resume also speaks of hopping from school to school.

These people were not hired in a vacuum. They came after the majority of the brain trust ran for the exit.

There’s nothing morally wrong with people who move jobs. But Hite is trying to execute a long-term plan by recruiting people who have never stayed in any position for 5 years.

In 9 years at Robeson, I’ve seen at 3 principals and roughly 6 different assistant superintendents2. Instead of planning for the future, we spend time figuring out who is in charge and what they want. That’s not good for kids.

I have a fix. And my fix is also a problem, which sums up my thinking these days.

Besides spending a lot on moving trucks, what all the new hires have in common is they are not from the Philadelphia school district. Hite did some reshuffling – moving people already in his cabinet around, up, and sideways. But, aside from new assistant superintendent Chris Lehmann, all of the hires are from somewhere else.

That’s the worst part of all this. Yes, it’s even worse than the prospective wasting-of-money. Great organizations – including the charter networks we’re supposed to imitate – promote from within. Plenty of talented teachers want to work in District HQ. I don’t understand either. But they do, and the message being sent to them is clear: “Leave”.

This isn’t just about promoting teacher voice. There is too much enmity between the people in HQ doing their job and people in the classrooms doing their job. We can break that. It’s difficult (although, conceded, not impossible) to screech at the “pencil-pushing six-figure suits” if those people were teaching down the hall last year. Promoting people from the classroom creates a sense of shared purpose, and we need a lot more sharing and purpose.

By only going outside, Hite is ignoring leaders and leadership incubators. Woe to PhillyPlus, a group that trains future leaders on the importance of aligning your philosophy with whatever the boss says. Even less obtuse groups like Philly Core Leaders or the terrific Teachers Lead Philly can’t get a foot in the door.

Say what you want about Mastery and KIPP3, but they do an awesome job making sure talented people have a ladder to climb. I’m 120% for promoting within the classroom, but some people want to go to administration. They live here. They work here. What’s the hold up?

Agitating against nepotism misses this crucial element. Great organizations make promoting stable, long term leaders a priority, not an exception.

  1. They need a home. Find them a home! 

  2. most notable is Mr. Shirley Gilbert, who was fired on Christmas 

  3. and prepared to be swarmed by their social media support group 

Age Ain’t Nothing but a Blunder

Here’s how I was hired for being old.

The previous summer I had worked for a brand new camp in a supervisory role. The next Spring I underwent extensive knee surgery. Running after 6 year olds and the 18 year olds paid to supervise them did not seem like the best medicine. But sitting around the house taught me that I don’t like to sit around the house, and I called my boss to talk jobs.

It was an odd conversation. He kept offering me strange roles, like drama director or aquatics facilitator. We left on “if you want it, we’ll find you a position”. I liked the camp. I didn’t like the thought of a Bart Simpson type summer. Let’s do it.

When I rolled up at orientation, all was clear – the average age of the counselors was 17. I have a decade of educational experience, including Jewish education in-line with the camp, but that’s not why I was rehired. You’re not wondering if so-and-so tagged you on Instagram? Welcome aboard.

And you know what? The staff was awesome. They loved the kids, they loved camp. They sang “Down by the Bay” for an entire 20 minute bus ride. Was there drama? Yes. Did they do dumb teenager things? Of course.1

But dealing with the counselors was my job, and the counselors made it rewarding. It was a great summer…except:

Our camp rents out the campus of a private high school for our facilities. Walking around with a bunch of 17-18 year olds, it was impossible for me to forget that the same people who were given ultimate responsibility over the lives of others would be trusted with absolutely nothing had they been on the campus 6 weeks earlier or 6 weeks later. They would have to ask to go to the bathroom, apologize for burping too loudly. They would lose points if their name wasn’t in the right corner of if they talked out of turn. Since the entire staff was white, they wouldn’t have to go through the B.F.-Skinner-dystopian-universe rigor of a “no excuses” school – walking silently through the hallway, having to sit on the floor until they earn a desk, or being named and shamed if they didn’t have the right test scores.

Come September, the same kids we trust to serve food, manage money, and care for miracles will be, at best, trusted with nothing. At worst? Treated like would-be criminals. That’s school; that’s nonsense.

One counselor said she liked working with me because “if the kids were bad, we could threaten to send them to Andrew”. Bonkers. On one level, I’ve reached old head status and I’m good with it. On another, I have, among teachers, a reputation for being “soft” with discipline. I’ve accepted it because it comes with respect for how I run my classroom.

But trusting kids shouldn’t be seen as weakness. One Robeson Senior would go through a full school day, work a shift at Wendy’s, and wake up to help a younger sibling get to school. I don’t feel like she needs my permission to pee.

Yes, there’s a difference between compulsory schooling and employment (which we can fix by making school more relevant). Yes, many students need help learning responsibility. Yes, I’m living in the high school bubble. But it’s utterly asinine – and this next part comes from administrators, teachers, and parents – that we demand teachers set a sky-high bar for academics while treating every kid like Nelson Muntz.

And not to jack #educolor , but remember it’s mostly white, privileged teachers like me enforcing these norms on people of color. Expectations, indeed.

Teachers, administrators, everyone: If you bought water-ice2, deposited money at a bank, or sent your kids to summer camp, you most-likely put a whole lot of faith in a child. There’s not reason that faith has to evaporate come September.

  1. Did you know people can have nostalgia over High School Musical? In related news, I’m out of beer 

  2. it’s not italian ice it’s water ice that’s in the Constitution get used to it