Summers Come, Careers Go
As the summer progresses, many of you will be leaving us for a well-deserved retirement. Some were not ready to take this important and daunting step but acted because of changes on the horizon or the threat of layoffs. Others may be forced to give up your careers or tens of thousands of dollars because of Department of Education’s disrespect for your expertise. This is not the way any of us wanted to end a career of service. Yet, changes have been imposed upon us without our input. Whatever professional autonomy we had is being diminished by decisions from the most centralized autocracy most of us have ever experienced.
I remember Joel Klein in the beginning, less than a year ago. He sought information from us and others. He seemed open to a dialogue and ideas.
I remember Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott standing beside me at our CSA Leadership Conference last November and speaking about forging a partnership. Was it only for show? Did the tide change when we negotiated a contract with no givebacks, or when we didn’t “hop on board” and applaud them blindly without comment or criticism?
Under the new regime, the atmosphere at Tweed quickly became a circling wagon train, drawing in closer and closer. The message became clear: either you’re with us or you’re cut off. Unions were and still are the enemy. Most parents were treated with utter disrespect. Input from principals was ignored. Legislators who disagreed were rewarded with dismissive airs but there are those who were enticed by potential rewards.
The Leadership Academy raised more than $30 million dollars to train principals, but we have to fight for the $1 million the Department of Education agrees to give us as per our contract.
“You cannot build a school system on contributions,” I told Joel Klein. “When those big-time donors lose interest and pull out, the system will not be able to sustain itself,” I cautioned. But the glitz and media attention are so intoxicating!
While we support the academy’s intentions, and have openly shared our professional development programs with those in charge, we are, nevertheless, disappointed the leaders of this academy do not have leadership expertise.
When the mayor unilaterally moved to dismantle 32 community school districts and dismiss superintendents we joined State Sen. Carl Kruger’s lawsuit and expanded the arguments to explain why the reorganization was unlawful. In mid-June, the city settled. We got everything we wanted. This action was not designed to maintain the status quo. We believe extraordinary change can be achieved within the legal framework of community districts.
We hope the current changes in our system will help educate our children far beyond those skills required on tests. The question is, could we have accomplished the same goals without the level of anguish and anxiety?
For those of you who are leaving us, we wish you the best life offers. The work we do has an impact far beyond our knowledge. For the school leaders staying behind, we must heed the warning of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki upon his retirement. As reported in The New York Times, Gen. Shinseki said, “You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader. You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it. And without leadership, command is a hollow experience, a vacuum often filled with mistrust and arrogance.” Have a healthy summer.#
Jill Levy has served as president of the Association for Neurologically Impaired Brain Injured Children and on President Clinton’s Committee for People with Disabilities. Ms. Levy has a Master’s degree in special education and has taught graduate courses on the subject. She is president of the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators.