Working for or with Oklahoma City Public Schools can be an unbelievable experience. Unbelievable as in “beyond belief.” Substantial problems face our district and the least-discussed problem is poor leadership — leadership that is beyond belief. It’s time to talk openly about a school system unable to develop a clear vision, inspire people to change or even hold leaders responsible.
The grading scandal at Douglass High School is just one more symptom exposing a failed district administrative team. We have leaders who not only can’t fix a broken school district; evidently they can’t even recognize problems that stand right before them.
Referring to the grading scandal, School Board Chairwoman Angela Monson said, “We did not fail our students.” An Oklahoma City principal explaining the grade her school received said, “The F doesn’t have anything to do with me. We’re doing our job.” Not failing our students? Doing our job? These statements make perfect sense to individuals who work in a dysfunctional organization that is so inwardly focused it has become out of touch with parents, employees and the community.
Great teachers — and the district has many — can’t overcome poor leadership. Our school system is overseen by a team that overmanages, under leads and underperforms. Our district leaders have brought home their report card to the public and it is a D. Not surprisingly, they complain the grade is unfair.
District leaders ought to be subject to the same rules that apply to our lowest-performing schools. Then an outside team could identify which of our administrators are ineffective and remove them from their positions. Use the school turnaround model implemented at U.S. Grant and 50 percent of our administrators could be removed. If it’s good for teachers, why is it not good for upper-level management?
Oklahoma City must come to terms with the fact that the school district is incapable of improving on its own. Our patrons, residents, faith partners, business and city leaders, along with the union, must come together and move our district forward. We must hold the leadership of Oklahoma City Public Schools accountable. As of now, no one is doing so.
Coming together as a community will be difficult, even painful at times, but not nearly as difficult and painful as standing by while another generation of our children aren’t given every opportunity to become productive citizens and achieve their dreams.
The union stands ready to work with others and do our part in changing our district culture and raising student achievement. The grading scandal can be an opportunity for leaders to make real change. Now is the time for a concerted effort to put the public back into public education. As citizens and community leaders, are we willing to share our time, talent and treasure to affect change?
Or will we leave a failing school district in the hands of those who can’t get the job done?
Allen is president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers.