ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

September 1997


Education 101: Redesigning Schools
Site Based Management Relocates Decision Making

Take the Good with the Bad
Positive and Negative Feedback in Creativity Sessions

Site Council Learns About Growth, Power And Communication

Knowledge Management
Taking Control of the Information Age

Etymology of a Buzzward

Investment Tip: Stay In For The Long Haul
Van Kampen American Capital Perseveres to Win AQP Excellence Award


It's About Time
by Peter Block

You Have to Be a Little Different
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Letters to the Editor


Education 101 Redesigning Schools

NFC: If you were consulting with another school system that had been considering site-based management, what would you recommend to them?
I think training - management training and training for staff. The other thing is time. When I talk to teachers, what is really important for them is the time to sit and think and talk and interact. So, I think trying to arrange time for teachers, not after their school time in order to do this type of work.
NFC: Who are the people on your site councils?
The people on the councils are teachers, classified staff, parents, students and administrators, they are shared decision-making. We had a framework committee who put some things in place. We were determined that the number of teachers would be fifty percent and above. Other than that it was left to the schools when they wrote their plans to decide how many there would be in each council and how many of those would be students,
parents, and so on.
NFC: What kind of decisions can these site councils make? Can they make decisions about teachers' salaries?
No they can't make decisions about salaries. They have to adhere to state and federal laws, court decisions and to the contract of the district. We now have a group called the Teaching and Learning Committee, which can help with problems that the local school sites have gotten into.
NFC: What might some of those be?
One of the major areas at the moment is who makes what decisions. It's a real change for principals who are accustomed to making a lot of decisions. For example, traditionally principals would review the curriculum and change it, in order to help the students within district guidelines. Now their role has changed and they're not sure exactly where some of these decisions should be made.
NFC: Have they moved into the area of evaluation of teacher performance?
No. I think in some informal way they might, but if you're talking about a formal evaluation the answer is no.
NFC: How do they select the parents?
That's up to each school site. They have to write that down in their charter. In one of our high schools they do it by the different groups who belong. Since we have such diversity in ethnic groups we try to make sure that's included.
NFC: Where do you see these site councils going? Five years from now what would be your hope?
My hope would be that we would decentralize more decisions and have councils that work well together. Councils that have more control of school budgets, are really concerned about the kids and how they can further education, and keep them, care for them. Councils that have done some research and are willing to explore new ways of teaching kids and not afraid of making mistakes.
NFC: Can you tell me about the Teaching and Learning Committee?
The Teaching and Learning Committee will serve as a filter and advisory group for initiatives related to restructuring and improving teaching and learning through site-based management and shared decision-making. All initiatives indicating significant changes at a school must go through the Teaching and Learning Committee for comment before going to the board. For example:

  • Review all plans if contractual or regulatory waivers are needed
  • Facilitate obtaining waivers of state or federal board policy or collective bargaining agreements
  • Participate in annual review of site-based management, shared decision-making.
  • Mediate conflicts and matters related to site-based management, shared decision-making issues.

NFC: Why couldn't these groups mediate their own conflicts?
One would hope they do. I would hope they only come to the board as a last resource. We took a team to Edmonton, Alberta, for a conference on site-based management. I talked to somebody from their central office who said what happened with their councils is if they got into some dispute they expected the principals to solve the matter. If the principal came to the district they might very well send them back to the school site to do something. If they needed training, they would provide training. If as a last resort they hadn't resolved things over a long period of time, they would send a mediator down.
NFC: You have contract negotiations coming up. The head of the Union was part of your team at the School for Managing, correct?
Yes. One of our teachers who I think is on the bargaining team made a comment about the experience at the School for Managing. "Professionally I thought the communication among team members to be effective in promoting change. I think I am more able to see other points of view and now may recognize when my agenda is stifling the discussion." I personally think we have all gotten to understand each other better. I think we are much more likely to raise issues and talk about them.
NFC: You've served on the board now for almost fifteen years. What do you see as the biggest challenges in getting your school system to the year 2000?
I think setting clear expectations of what we expect for achievement and education for kids. And to make sure that all kids get the same curriculum and are treated in the same manner.
NFC: Is there a solution to how our country finances school systems?
We haven't found one yet. On the state level we are trying to sort out the system to see how much it cost. What we've done is put together some estimates and a document on the cost. When you do your budget there are varying account numbers and that's where the money goes. But that really doesn't tell you what the money is spent for. So we are in the process of trying to find out what schools spend money for. We are hoping that we get an idea of the cost of different parts of the system. Since it is a system you always get back to outcomes anyway.
NFC: You talk about a school "system." Is it really a system and do we apply systems theory to our school system?
That's one of the things I've been trying to think about. In fact, we had a retreat for our board and I said we should think about systems. For example, if we want something to happen, where does the decision need to get made in order to have that happen? You also need to know more about how the system works and what's going on, too. I have on my bed side my reading material which includes Senge's "The Fifth Discipline" and his workbook, too.
NFC: With your background in microbiology you're also looking at systems there.
Actually, that's one of the pieces that got me interested in the School for Managing. I had gone to a conference and had listened to a guy named Fritjof Capra, who talks about the web of life and he's very interested in ecology. He talks about systems going from simple to complex, all the interdependence and the interweaving and redundant systems. That from my background makes a lot of sense. Then I listened to Myron Kellner-Rogers who picked up some of the same material.
NFC: How do you see these systems theories being translated to what's going on at Sequoia Union?
People keep hearing about systems and redundant thinking and redundant systems, too. Personally, I pretty much walk my talk. I get out to the schools a lot and talk to people and find out what's happening. That's one way to live in the system. And the other is from the district level, the board sets the vision and then has other people react and work with that. After the vision is set, you have to let go to some extent. But you also have to be involved enough that if it's starting to head off in some direction that's not useful you ask a question or two to help correct that.
NFC: So part of it is learning to let go?
I think to some extent. I read a recent article which talked about people growing up in two ways - those of us grew up in control and wanting to get things done are the ones in command in the top of the organizations. That's sort of my group. And individuals who grew up in compliant environments and do what other people ask them to do. The top takes so much responsibility and the bottom doesn't take enough. That to me makes a heck of a lot of sense.
That's also one reason I thought school-based decision making would help to even out the balance of control and power. In addition, I feel there's a lot of comment in the public that schools and teachers need to be more accountable. That makes sense to me. Along with letting go at the top. We need to help other people within the system understand that.

Sept. '97 News for a Change | Email Editor
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