A reader asked the following question: “By adjusting your philosophy, does Brezina mean to seek middle ground? Or does he mean to find common ground and build upon it? As Cain suggested, sometimes there is no middle ground. So, then what?”
The Brezina Answer
I believe how you fix a problem depends upon the situation you are in, each ISD has its own DNA and how you fix it in one school can be different in the next. I will be speaking to the, “then what?”
I agree with your statement that adult attitudes are often the root of the problem. That being the case, if you need to leave, it is better if it is on your terms rather than theirs. Sometimes it is only you that must (and will) do the hard things that have to be done. A critical thing to remember is that the quicker you make those decisions and stick to them, the better off you and the organization will be. People will be mad, but for a shorter period of time. The longer you take, the more the pain and anger grows exponentially.
This question reminds me of my first Superintendent’s job. The situation is a near perfect match to what you describe. I walked into the following and I had a choice; fix the situation, or tread water and look for another job in 3 years (my contract term).
These were the issues:
1- Race riots the previous school year.
2- Fights were a regular occurrence on the secondary campuses.
3- The state fire marshal chained and locked three campuses over the summer.
4- A bond issue had passed 5 years previous, but citizens kept getting injunctions to delay the construction of new buildings.
5- Meaningful academics were non-existent.
6- Students had an hour for lunch and could go any place in town to eat,
7- The Athletic Director and HS Principal quit when I was hired.
8- I hired their replacements about a week before school started.
I decided that I would leave the district in a better position than what I inherited.
1 – It took us about six weeks to fix the fighting problem. To address some discipline issue, I kicked some star athletes off the football team. That led to boycotts of the games and the teams. We ended up playing the season with just 13 players, but it built a strong foundation that has served that community for over 30 years now.
2 – I had a secret plan to sell the bonds the day the injunction was lifted and executed that plan. That made the leader of the anti-bond group furious. He got elected to the Board and did everything he could to make my life miserable and job difficult (after I left, I ran into that Board member and he gave me a hug and told me that I did the right thing).
3 – At mid-term, we closed campus (for lunches) without a peep from the community, even the hamburger joints did not complain.
4 – Finally with control of the system, we tackled the academic issues.
5 – We built the new High School.
For the record, I carried my resignation letter in my coat pocket to every Board Meeting during the first year, just in case.
In that situation I could not see any middle ground. The choices were doing what was good for the kids and the community, or not doing it. Therefore, I did what I thought was right. But believe me, I communicated 10 times more than normal on the “what, why, when and how.”
That is Leadership. You know going in that some of your decisions will be accepted and some will not, even if it is the right thing. But you still do the right thing.
Climate and culture can change quickly, but to make that change stick takes time. When I accepted a job in a larger district, the Board asked me to help them hire the next Superintendent. I did, and I set up the Principal to take his job, and the AD to take the Principal’s job. That AD also eventually became the district’s superintendent. That was a 14 year plan. All of that to say, if you are in a leadership position make sure you are training someone to take your job.
Leadership isn’t easy, but you volunteered for the job.
Mr. Brezina starts out by saying situations are contextual, and he is right. However, he trained me to operate under the foundational belief that, “if it is not right for kids, it is wrong.” It is amazing how that clears up almost every contextual concern.
Second, he mentions that he communicated ten times more than his normal mode. I rented time on a MIT supercomputer to do the math on this particular equation. The re-created model shows that in this case, Mr. Brezina used twenty words, instead of his normal two.
Think. Work. Achieve.