My sympathies and expectations for Polk’s district administrators

Recently, I was approached by a long-time Polk School District administrator. She’s a functional leader, not an organizational leader. She and her staff work daily with schools. And she was upset with the relentless focus from virtually all candidates on the shortcomings of Bartow leadership.

It’s wearing her down, she said. She didn’t really disagree with our core critique of the Bartow leadership culture. But she felt unable to escape that critique as an individual, no matter what she did. Anytime a candidate critiqued Bartow performance, she heard herself included in the criticism. And from her point-of-view, she suffers every day to help children and teachers under the same stupid/destructive mandates that teachers and students must endure. To be tarred with the same brush as the Wes Bridges and Heather Wrights and Tony Bellamys of Polk (those are my words, not hers) hurts her.

“Believe me, we don’t sit around dreaming up new tests for children,” she said. And she pointed out that the Berryman/LeRoy era also terrorized administrators with its toxic mix of petty tyranny and vast incompetence. She’s right.

I’m very sympathetic to her point. And I’m grateful for the good faith and bravery of this administrator. I respect it. Productive confrontation drives progress.

Leadership culture: what I expect of myself — and others

I’ve actually been thinking about the core of this administrator’s point for a long time. How do we talk about broken leadership “culture” in Bartow without implicating every individual and damaging their capacity to do their important jobs?  It’s not easy. But let me lay out three key points about my thinking and understanding of accountability.

  1. I sometimes write critically about the job performance of real human beings in a very public way. That comes with personal consequences for those people. I understand that. And it means the people I write about — or those who feel included in my criticisms — get to confront me. Just like this administrator did. That’s a core personal value of mine. Kathryn LeRoy, Wes Bridges, Jacque Bowen, Heather Wright, and Tony Bellamy are welcome to call me at any time. My phone number is 863-209-4037.  Short of threatening or openly trolling me, we’ll have ongoing discussions. It doesn’t mean they’ll like those discussions. But we’ll have them. If they convince me I’m wrong, I’ll say it. I’ve done it before.
  2. If elected, I’ll have fairly simple expectations for the leaders I oversee: good faith effort in your job, honesty, and respect for the communities and people under your power.  That means understanding and caring about the impact of your directives and actions on the people we’ve given you the power to lead. If you abuse that power with anyone, you will answer for it — in one form or another. Hopefully, our superintendent will take care of it. But I won’t leave it at that if it doesn’t happen.
  3. If I’m talking about you as a problem that must be confronted and solved, I will publicly name you. If I haven’t named you, I don’t consider you a problem at that level. Before I name you, I will try to address you with other means, just as I did with Heather Wright and Tony Bellamy in private with district leadership.

Indeed, I believe most leadership problems are correctable with good faith.

Unfortunately, our School Board has reacted with passiveness and indifference to the respectfulness of the leadership culture it oversees. It has allowed some leadership problems to become uncorrectable. That leaves the public with only one recourse: change School Board leadership.

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