Party of One
It probably goes without saying that I liked Wayne Greene’s report this morning in the Tulsa World. He points out the problems Superintendent Barresi has, both within her party, and within the framework of building consensus across the state. The comments of Katie Henke, a Republican running for the legislature are quite telling:
I was disappointed to learn that Superintendent Barresi had not worked closely with our local school superintendents to develop this system. I would think that anything as significant as this would be done in collaboration with the local school superintendents who know their district best.
Superintendents are frustrated too. Not surprised anymore, but frustrated. This is a pattern of behavior for not just Barresi, but the occupants of all key positions at the SDE.
Greene highlights Barresi’s inability to get along with the State Board she inherited and that this trend is continuing with the current board. If you’ll remember, her first board meeting descended into chaos initially due to frustration by several board members that they had not been provided with the credentials of the people Barresi wanted to hire. While she managed to turn the tide and generate sympathy after that meeting, she’s now repeating this pattern with the new board. When they ask for information, they get partial information at best.
On the other end – working proactively and collaboratively with schools – Barresi has also been a bust. She was elected to be a reformer, giving her the right to be just that. She has been ineffective, however, because she has failed to include the key people working in the field she intends to change. As she entered office, school districts had already begun implementing the Common Core State Standards – with a four-year timeline. Likewise, ACE was already in place, having passed with six years warning before students started facing the prospect of not graduating. When prepared with time, information, and resources, school districts (and their leaders) can be pretty flexible.
Every reform since then – Teacher Leader Effectiveness, A-F Report Cards, the NCLB Waiver, third-grade retention, supplemental online instruction, and soon the Parent Trigger – has been advanced by the SDE with minimal input from schools. The NCLB waiver was written before the SDE assembled committees to provide input. The A-F Report Card rules were developed by a small group of staff at the agency with limited teaching experience and no time served in school administration.
Barresi even butted heads with the TLE commission because they had the audacity to recommend the Tulsa Model (when she wanted Marzano). Her solution to that was to allow districts to pick a model. (About 80 percent picked the model she disliked.) This was in direct conflict with both the commission and the legislative intent. Barresi subverting the will of her board this week is not news; it only continues a pattern.
Greene suggests that Barresi – if she chooses to run in 2014 – is no lock to win her party’s nomination, much less the general election. Around the state, I can’t get a read for that. Realistically, it’s probably not even that important to consider right now. The existing reforms that the SDE struggles to implement will combine with new initiatives in the next two years to continue siphoning money away from public schools. Her proposed budget hints at that. Her support for the Parent Trigger assures it. In politics and in leadership, she has only just begun to play rough.