Have you thought like this? In that moment before taking a giant step, do you make yourself Pro and Con lists? In mid-July of 2013, I found myself in an express hiring process for a turnaround principal spot. It began on a Friday with a 30-minute review of my basics. I was brought in for a 3-hour interview and simulation on Saturday. Got a call Monday morning to interview with the Superintendent that afternoon. Appointed by the Board of Ed on Wednesday.
On Sunday as I could see what I was being lined up for, I paused to make my lists. The district was entering the second cohort of turnaround schools, having hastened seven into being the previous year in a group known as the Innovation Zone schools. I used the past as prologue to get a sense of what lay ahead for me: I read up on the iZone to see the model the district followed for turnaround.
Below is my journal entry from that Sunday when I paused to consider pros and cons. Granted, a lot of it is shorthand, because I was writing only for myself. I'm not embellishing it here, because I'm curious to know if the raw ideas make sense to others in the same position.
If you are a turnaround principal yourself, maybe you went through something similar. If you are on track to become one soon, you may be about to weigh your options. If you are the ally of a committed educator about to lead, you may be consulted. I'm curious to read what others consider on the threshold of taking on the job of turnaround principal.
Journal: July 19th
Prepping for the iZone interview as principal. This is going into the belly of the neoliberal reform beast. They're going to be implementing data-driven regimes, tested frequently, instructed via basal readers and textbooks from Pearson, and extending the day at least an hour.
So, I'm gonna present myself as the guy who does cultural competence/proficiency (cite Lindsays), and rigorous strength-oriented data regimes, plus inclusion for its own sake and as essential for time management. These best practices all reinforce each other.
Can we find space for that kind of innovative leadership?
Some fairly major compromises to make with this possible position. A quick pro/con list:
Turnaround credential. I've talked a lot of smack for a lot of years about what folks need to do to make a difference. This will be the chance to actually get it done, and have a real example to point to, like with my teaching from earlier.
- Faculty opt in. Democratic change is the only kind that will sustain. Bring the community organizing lessons, especially from Dorothy Cotton Institute trainings. So much of what I know about the current reform movement and this district in particular is coercive and anti-teacher. This is a chance to do it better.
- Culturally Responsive RTI/PBIS. I've been writing about how RTI/PBIS might be a step beyond conventional punishment and classification, but still 'old wine in new skins.' RTI/PBIS is still reproducing disproportionality by race and class. Does the dramatic redesign of a turnaround give the space to start from scratch with culturally responsive RTI and PBIS?
- Superintendent is on her way. Looks to me like the Super has done good work in her previous spot, and is shaking things up here. Get on board with this effort, and perhaps move toward doing it more broadly somewhere else?
- Keep working with allies. I've got some ties in this city and university to folks who know progressive reform, but are on the periphery now. I could build bridges there.
- Democratic governance. Part of the turnaround is the building having its own local governance, still within the contract, but with more space. If there's the space to do genuine democratic policy setting and dispute resolution, that'd be fantastic. Especially great considering how contentious admin/union relations have been in this city for so long.
- Restorative justice. Would love to set this up as a model school in the district for restorative justice. Again, within turnaround, we could have the space to do this for real. And if the turnaround involves switching out half the faculty (as the iZone schools did), then we could make facility with cultural competence and restorative justice criteria for joining the new faculty in 2014-15.
- Salary and benefits. They pay well.
- Neoliberal curriculum reform. They seem to be all-in with Pearson for ELA and Math in the existing turnaround schools. May have to swallow this one.
- Antagonistic broader community. I don't live there now, but from the troll comments in the paper, it looks to me like this is one angry city. Unabashed racism there.
- Long, potentially dangerous commute. That's a dangerous corridor, as I know all too well from January 2010. Three weather systems in three counties, with some bad snow. Need an AWD car, and some couches to sleep on for those nights I just can't get home.
- Long hours. With a new family, do I want to devote the time and energy it's gonna take to do this work?
- Professional rapprochement. Can't ever get entirely way from some old and painful ties. Boundaries possible where necessary?
In hindsight, I can see gaps in my thinking. I can also see some prescience for stuff that came at me with a vengeance during the year of actually doing the job. I still like the rawness of it for now.