Monday, June 16, 2008


There's been some talk on Inside Ed that the budget reforms aren't respectful of the principals, or that the staffing cuts at North Avenue aren't respectful of the people who work there. I'm not sure respect is the issue here. It seems though, that respect means different things to different people.

Respect is one of the buzzwords of the moment. At work we have training in how to be respectful of co-workers. I listened to a fascinating interview with some BCPSS students on violence at the CEM website here. I was struck that they saw a major source of friction as being acts of disrespect. In this context respect is more about fearing someone than holding them in high regard.

From my point of view, and I know this sounds trite, respect (the high regard kind) is earned, not instituted. Rules for actions that are related to saving your neck or your job don't equal respect. Rules from above about politeness (no name calling, no interrupting or yelling, etc) can make the environment less hostile, but that politeness doesn't mean there's respect involved.

In that light here's my reaction to the idea that we should be respectful of those who's jobs are being shook up by changes in the BCPSS. The implication is that the changes should be slower and more careful so that feelings aren't hurt. In nine years I have never once heard a respectful statement from a teacher about "North Ave." I've heard polite statements, less polite statements and lots of silence, but never a comment about how much North Ave. helps in the classroom or in any other way. Since my interaction with North Ave. is limited I have no reason to argue with them about how they should feel towards North Ave. I have also gotten the impression from these same teachers that North Ave. doesn't respect them. This usually has something to do with training that they don't find beneficial or paperwork that they don't think is necessary. From my position of outside looking in, I don't think that there's currently much respect between North Ave. and the teachers, so it's doubtful that systemic changes are going to make it worse.

If Dr. Alonso can change things in North Ave. and schools enough, maybe the two parties can start with a clean slate and develop respect. I'm afraid careful, evolutionary changes that seem safer will never have enough momentum to changes these entrenched feelings.


  1. As a teacher, Mr. Alonso has not earned my respect, especially since he responds with a "holier than thou" attitude whenever he encounters dissension. He reminds me of President Bush during his first term whenever he heard about criticism of his Iraq policy, he questioned the person's patriotism.

    Bottom line, a good leader welcomes and encourages different perspectives--we cannot praise certain people for this attribute, yet excuse others, such as Mr. Alonso simply because he claims to be the one with the solution.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this blog.

    I'm surprised by your characterization of Dr. Alonso's response, because in the parent/community discussions that I've attended he has been pretty open to listening to complaints. He certainly liked complaints about things that he was already changing more than those about the changes that he was making, but he seemed to listen to both. He defended his changes and plans, but I thought that constructive criticism was well received. When there was a simple solution like going to a school or emailing someone, those things seemed to happen fairly quickly. If my memory is correct I thought he did better at listening to some of the rambling complaints than I would have. That's one of the reasons I don't go to more community meetings than I do - some of the people talking can just go on and on and not really say that much. Written communication works better for me. Maybe a constructive email would be better received.

  3. To be fair with Mr. Alonso, he should receive credit for restructuring North Avenue and dealing with the budget. That said, it is fair to hold Mr. Alonso accountable for the current, chaotic environment in public schools.

    As we are discovering with torture and the Bush Administration, high officials in the administration were not passive participants, they were active policymakers. I have witnessed the dramatic decline in public schools during the last year. Incidents such as the attack on Jolita Barry are becoming too common within the system. The cause of this, Mr. Alonso's steadfast dictum to not suspend students and hold them accountable. He has a valid point, it is not practical to suspend all students--however, who exactly is saying all students should be suspended? Perhaps only those who set fires, use and sell illegal drugs, possess firearms, or participate in violent behavior, such as fighting or bullying other students.

    In summary, Mr. Alonso appears to act on the best interests of children--time will tell. If the objective of public education is to prepare students to become law-abiding citizens, this will be a colossal failure. Teachers and school administrators can only do so much--it is easy to forget that they are not policymakers. Do we blame soldiers in Iraq for President Bush's mistakes? Food for thought.

  4. I'm going to move away from Dr. Alonso with this and into the comments made in your fourth paragraph with regard to whether visitors from North Avenue are perceived as helpful or not. From my standpoint as someone who straddles the line between the schools and the area offices, the answer is usually "not".

    I can't even count the number of times that representatives from North Avenue came to the schools this year and gave erroneous information to teachers and special educators that I later had to follow up on and correct. In one case I spent literally weeks trying to correct misperceptions of one person who kept harrassing Special Education staff because she was reading the IEPs incorrectly.

    We've been through numerous policy or procedure changes that are very "top-down" and don't appear to take anything into account. And when we protest (and enumerate the reasons for our protests), the responses range from weak excuses to some verbal equivalent of "suck it up and deal".

    As you note, respect has to be earned, but there doesn't appear to be a large number of people interested in making that effort.

  5. Respect from North Ave would mean getting phone calls or emails returned. Respect would mean that a teacher who earned certification one year would not be fired the next year for NOT being certified (a failure on North Ave's part to accurately and timely process the certification). Respect would mean having one's contract honored by being told what your teaching position is for the coming year by the last day of school (they surely didn't). Shall I continue???


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