Friday, December 13, 2013

Deal Breakers: Location and Entitlement

In an earlier post, I wrote about how to best choose your administrative home. My strong beliefs in choosing one's school community wisely stems from a challenging administrative appointment I endured previously. While these events could have occurred at any school (and surely have), there were two distinct challenges in a previous district that I could never fully address on a professional manner.

The first challenge was simply the location of the school in relation to where I lived. Much like the old joke in the Real Estate business that asks what the three most important factors in valuing a house are, "location, location, location" was something that I just couldn't overcome. As someone who lived just a few blocks from their place of employment, I seemingly couldn't escape the responsibilities of my daily and then nightly professional life. When I would go to the dog park in the evening, I would often be peppered with questions from concerned parents about school issues. Occasionally, one of these parents would have a student who we had recently suspended. Often, these conversations were quite challenging as I simply just wanted to play fetch with my dog. These community members had a hard time separating the assistant principal role from the dog owner at the park status I wished for. Worse, there was more than a few parents who discovered where I lived and would stop by my home with work-centered questions. Often, these visits happened past 8 pm and on weekends. It reached a point where we would be hiding out in a back room some nights with the lights turned off, just to avoid the parade of concerned parents in our neighborhood.

Often, it was just by chance that we would end up in a conversation about the school. My wife worked at our feeder middle school and was quite recognizable as their school counselor. More than just a few times, we would be out to dinner locally and would end up mid-meal overhearing a loud conversation from the next table over about one of our schools. It was a challenge to enjoy one's meal when misinformation was being broadcasted about your school just a few feet away. Our weekly Costco trips turned into twenty questions by the luggage aisle with various parents and community members about certain staff members and how unjust their grading practices were. Worse, there were school conversations from patrons behind us at the movie theater, in line to get our car washed, and even a few times at a local post-dinner establishment when we were just trying to relax. We just couldn't escape the location of our schools.

These days, when I say to my wife how disappointed I am that I can't see my school families on weekends given my 20 minute commute, she refers me back to the above comments and reminds me just how intolerable the situation truly was.

The second challenge was the entitlement. Let me preface with saying that every school has some level of entitlement and it can actually be a healthy thing for your school. However, in some districts, there is often a challenge to balance the demands and expectations of the parents at one's school with what's best for the educational and social-emotional needs of all of your students. I've previously written about the vandalism to our school site and the unique parent conversations thereafter. Sadly, this kind of parental response was all too common during my tenure at this school. Parents seemed more interested in the final grade rather than a life lesson or educational journey their student could experience.

One example would be a plagiarism incident that was brought to my attention by the English department chair. A student had turned in to the teacher for their final draft an essay that had been cut and pasted from Wikipedia and one other website verbatim. This student did not even bother to take out the misnumbered footnotes from his paper nor change the different fonts from each of the sources into one common format. When I asked the teacher if the student had met any of the deadlines previous for rough draft submissions (our teachers would often scaffold these assignments), I was informed that the student had only turned in the one paper, as described above, on the final due date. It was one of the more blatant plagiarism incidents I had seen in my administrative career. The parents of this student disagreed.

During our 90 minute meeting about this incident, the parents attacked the Academic Honesty Policy of the school (which had been written by students for students), disagreed with the grade the student would receive on the paper, and maintained that their student had not plagiarized at all. You see, they informed us that their student had turned in their rough draft by mistake on the final due date. While it felt odd that a student's rough draft would be copied directly from two websites, I asked if they had a copy of the true final paper with them. They said they did not. I asked them if they could produce the final copy upon arriving home. They said they could not. I asked if they could send it in within a few hours. Again, they said this would not be possible. Instead, they resorted to name calling, verbally assaulting the teacher about their treatment of children and threatened to take it further up the chain of command. And so they did, all the way to the district office level. The most unbelievable part of the story is not the blind defending of the student by the parents but how common these conversations were with our parent community in regard to their students' behaviors.

These may not be your deal breakers but similar ones exist for every administrator I've ever met. When I begin my search for my next administrative appointment (which I hope is not any time soon), I'll be asking certain questions to avoid such unnecessarily challenges. After all, as I say to our students on a regular basis, school is hard enough without making it more complicated. For me, enjoying how I spend my days is very important. Having a school community that works together on school issues while still respecting my out-of-school time is a blessing. Working with parents on student discipline incidents that can truly be a learning experience for their student is quite refreshing. Not every interaction is necessarily perfect, but I've seen the other side and I'll do my best to choose my school community wisely in the future.

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