Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Who's the boss?

A friend of a friend just lost his job. I know that this happens, but this was unusual. He was the principal of the best school in the region, a school which consistently wins awards, competitions and prizes, a school whose enrollment continued to grow despite the recession, and a school with close to 100% staff retention and over 90% student retention in what is a highly-mobile area. The most interesting thing is that this is a fee-paying private school, one whose parents could choose to go to any other school public or private. They chose this school because of what was happening there, and what was happening there was because of this principal.

Why did this principal lose his job?

The board elected a new chair who began to issue top-down directives and orders. He frequently stated that, "x, y, z absolutely is a board matter" and persuaded the rest of the board that they needed to be involved in every last detail of the school. They began challenging the principal, armchair quarterbacking and criticising the principal, and not always in private. They encouraged parents and teachers to complain directly to them and not to the principal, deciding that one unhappy teacher actually represented the entire faculty, and that three parents who beefed because a decision did not go their way represented all 300 families.

The final straw was when the principal was instructed to double the salary of the handyman, a friend of the board chair. No matter that this put the handyman above all the teaching staff who each have degrees, certification and years of experience. No matter that this ignored the published salary table. No matter that this is a matter for the principal not a board matter. So when the principal refused, he was let go.

So now the school has no principal. In fact, the board chair is on record saying the school doesn't need a principal. Of course, the teachers and parents don't agree so we will see what happens. But this does ask the question: in a school, who's the boss?

Oh and by the way, when this principal contacted the leading recruitment firm for school leaders in the US, the first question he was asked was, "What did the board do?"

1 comment :

Granny Smith said...

I had forgotten about this post so here is an update from a few months ago. After less than one semester, the two deputy principals threatened to resign unless a principal was appointed. Mid-year, and with something clearly wrong, all the board could find was someone who was curiously available for an immediate start. The search for a replacement principal yielded no-one. In the end, an ambitious teacher with no experience of leadership, nor working with a board, nor even of that school's program, was appointed.

That board chair lasted one year. Meanwhile, three-fourths of the faculty and almost all the school's families left. The school survives, but dropped all its special programs, and no longer features in any competition or display or even news reports. And it has debts of $600,000. Today, the school is the mirror image of all the other schools in town, and it has to rely on being on a main road to bring in students.

As I write elsewhere, when boards and board chairs do not respect their roles and their limits, things will go badly for the school and the students.