Saturday, June 14, 2014

Confidentiality Agreement

I received a Comment today about the following scenario. "Joe" is a school head who last year took a position leading a school, one of a group of schools. When he arrived at his new post, he found he had been largely misled, and in several respects lied to. The real situation in his new school, and in the group, as a whole ranged from mediocre to terrible, unethical and perhaps even unlawful.

After a few months, Joe took some of his concerns to his immediate boss:
  • the school was not accredited as had been claimed
  • the school had not been paying its bills and so was denied credit around town
  • invoices had not been sent out on time and several families had left owing fees so his budget was in trouble
  • teachers bullied students
  • teachers shouted at students, one so loud he could be heard 50 yards away and another some 2 inches from the 10 year-old's face
  • teachers did not plan
  • children were unsupervised at recess
  • one teacher simply abandoned her position in the middle of the night
  • two teachers announced in the first week of the year they hated the school and wanted to leave, before he was hired, and they continuously repeated this to anyone who would listen, who were mostly parents of the school
  • four students were sent to the ER  in two months
  • there was no safety procedure
  • the campus was dangerous in several places 
  • the campus was unsecure with open gates at several points on the perimeter
  • central office staff contacted his staff directly, at times telling them to stop doing what he had assigned and to do something for them; he typically discovered this when his staff missed a deadline or an event became a last-minute panic
  • numerous disputes between his staff and central office staff with each calling the other liars
  • etc etc etc.
Joe tells me the list goes on and on.

His boss listened and appeared to agree with Joe's plan of action. Joe fixed many of the administrative problems, and generally left teaching matters until the second semester. His plan was to make a few targeted replacements the following year, and to use the newcomers to introduce new policies and new practices.

So in the second semester, Joe conducted formal and informal observations of every teacher. One teacher, observed on 50+ walk-throughs, invariably set students individual quiet work while he sat at his desk, at his computer, with his back turned to his class. The formal observation showed questionable practice with teaching math. Another observation found two year-old classroom displays, dating from a previous teacher who had left, and a Middle School French lesson conducted entirely in English. Not coincidentally, students in the first teacher's class were on average 1 - 2 grades below grade level on standardized tests, and in the second scored in the 0 - 20% range on theirs. Another lectured her G4 class while sitting in a chair at the front, day in and day out.

Joe told his boss he intended to replace these teachers but was directly instructed not to do so. He was also told that central office would continue to contact his staff directly and they would continue to countermand his instructions and to obstruct his workflow planning.

Meanwhile, one of his teachers signed a contract for the next academic year but one month later announced she had secured a job at another school and would be leaving. Joe called his boss for guidance, but his boss was travelling so he spoke to the boss's number two. She told Joe to call the other school for confirmation which he did and which they gave. Understandably, they also contacted the teacher.

The teacher called Joe's boss and complained that Joe had gone behind her back to destroy her career. She then told everyone at the school, including parents, that Joe's boss had apologized to her on behalf of the group of schools.

Joe was furious. He called his boss who denied apologizing, but said he would not make a public statement to clear things up. He sent Joe, the deputy principal and the business manager an email with "Not for Circulation" in big red letters saying that Joe had done the right thing. However, Joe was not to do anything more, to leave it lie, and that he was doing the same thing.

This, on top of the pre-hiring deception and being instructed not to address the serious problems he had encountered, was the final straw. Joe gave a semester's  notice according to the terms of his contract which was countered with an enhanced payoff if (a) he left immediately and (b) he signed a confidentiality agreement as to why he was leaving. Joe did this, received a sizeable amount of cash and left.

However, he is now troubled. Children at the school are in a potentially dangerous situation. Teachers are being hired not knowing what they are getting into, and when they arrive many find themselves in an intolerable situation. Parents are not getting what they are paying for. Children are not being educated and their chances of a good high school are seriously harmed. Joe signed the confidentiality agreement and followed it and will continue to follow it. He did not tell me the school, the group of schools, or the state. But he feels he has compromised his principles and gone against the reason he went into teaching and then into administration: to help children.

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