Winter break 2007: Returning to school refreshed, with my sleeves rolled up and ready to concentrate on the business of education, it was almost a full five minutes before I received my first disappointment of the new year. I realized that despite the fact it was a new year, and with a new superintendent, all we would be receiving would be more of the same.
Now, it wasn't little Johnny cursing me out or little Suzie refusing to do her work which got me down - as a teacher I am used to that; besides, I know it's my job and my responsibility to get them to follow directions and learn. No, what got me down came from much higher up; what got me down came from those who were supposed to be helping me out, making my job easier; what brought me down didn't come from my students, it came from my superintendent and my school board. And I was only one of many who were feeling it.
After Ed Pratt-Dannals replaced Joey Wise at the bargain basement price of $275,000 (plus our national reputation) I am sure many people - parents, teachers and interested parties alike - thought things would be different; that the way things were done would change. No longer would the school system be led from an ivory tower where mandates were handed down and subordinates without input were expected to carry them out.
We thought we were ushering in a new era where we would all work together as a team...(that's where parents, teachers and administrators alike would come together to make our school system one in which we could all be proud). The first few days after the change, we were all filled with optimism.
And then - right off the bat - the new superintendent (seemingly in an effort to prove things were going to be different) came to us and sought the counsel of all the school board employees. He came to us and asked us to help him solve one of the most pressing problems our school system had, (wait for it - *dramatic pause* - wait for it:) What Our E-Mail Address Should Be. You see, educationcentral.org and dreamsbeginhere.org no longer represented the direction in which we wanted to head ... (*sound of balloon deflating and spinning out of control around a room*) so much for our optimism.
Our administration must have decided, 'Hey let's get that one out of the way first, and then we can come back to the issues of discipline spiraling out of control and schools that are failing. That's right - before we tackle the problems of teacher morale, violence, truancy and dropouts, let's make sure we get the e-mail address right'.
Though I find it just as likely they thought, 'Hey, for the most part, teachers have no idea how to handle failing schools, violence in the classroom or truancy, but since we want to give the appearance of us being a team, let's throw them a softball that they may be able to help with - besides, if we give them two choices, (A or B) about something nobody really cares about, how can they mess it up?'
Either way, an e-mail was sent out asking us to choose between myduvalschools.org and duvalschools.info, and we were asked to vote for which one we liked better. The address that received the most votes would then become the official one. (Perhaps they also thought that a byproduct of finally getting the right e-mail address that represented us would be that our FCAT scores would go up and the dropout rates would go down - two of the many, many problems teachers were not asked to help solve).
So, teachers voted... and even though this (in the scheme of things, when compared to dwindling supplies, dropping test scores, being threatened in the halls by thugs masquerading as students and so many other things) was basically a trivial matter, many of us were happy to do so. You see, for the last few years, so many things have been (and are still being) forced onto us and we are required to implement them without giving any input; America's Choice, Access Points, and ninth graders being forced to declare a major are a few of the more glaring boondoggles that the county has declared the next great fix - only to be later discarded. Even though it was the equivalent of being asked if we wanted two or three ice cubes in our water, it was actually nice to have our opinions considered.
The votes came in and as a group, we decided on myduvalschools.org. We knew that with that burning issue out of the way, we would next be asked to help tackle the other problems facing our school system - and if you have forgotten some of them, they are: no discipline; failing schools; plummeting teacher morale; violence, truancy and dropouts. These are problems that teachers, parents and other interested parties initially thought may have been just a bit more pressing, but our opinions were not requested.
Except that wasn't what happened; instead of going with what the rank-and-file voted on (and mind you, this was after we were asked to vote, and we were told what we voted for was going to be the new address) we got a letter informing us they decided to forego our decision and head in a different direction; that the choice we made did not adequately reflect what we wanted to project; and that one of the reasons they decided to go with a different address from the one we had chosen was that it was going to be free. I guess after paying the previous superintendent's severance we couldn't afford the $9.00 the domain name we chose would have cost.
That's right - after being asked how many ice cubes we wanted, they decided to not even give us a drink. We couldn't even get that right. Read that again, parents; the school board doesn't believe the people who are entrusted to teach your children are capable of helping to pick an e-mail address.
I started to wonder why they even asked us in the first place, but it became a little too mind-numbing; and, to be honest, I didn't really care, because when compared to so many other things, what our e-mail address is doesn't really matter. However, what I do care about is the disconnect the administration has with its staff; the belief that these people (out of the classroom, in many instances for years) have - that they feel they know what's best, especially when many of us in the trenches feel like they have no idea what is going on.
I also started to wonder if they only payed 'lip service' to teachers and our opinions - or who else they might be doing it to. Maybe parents should be asking this same question.
Now, if you are wondering which one I voted for: I didn't. I was too busy getting little Johnny to take his seat and little Suzie to do her work, though I anxiously await the next time the administration has a pressing question (such as which number two pencil to use, or how many chicken nuggets should come with lunch); you know...something they might feel I am qualified to help with.