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Why Change?

Last summer the school board here in the overly-large school district hired a new superintendent1 and since then we’ve been waiting for her reorganization of the system. Because that’s what new big bosses do, they rearrange things to fit their vision and add their imprint to the bureaucracy.

A couple of weeks ago that plan was dropped on us. The centerpiece is grouping the schools into five regions, each lead by an assistant superintendent and an “executive” principal. Which is different from the eight clusters we have now, created by the previous superintendent’s reorg. And the three areas (reduced from four) passed along by his predecessors. I’m sure there were other arrangement prior to that but my memory of past changes is exhausted.

In addition, the org chart for central office gets “streamlined” (although not really) with a new Chief Academic Officer, Chief Operations Officer and Chief of Staff. 2 Very telling that the Testing/Assessment office is shown reporting directly to the CAO,3 above anything to do with instruction in the diagram.

Anyway, that’s all very interesting (and not especially different) but the real bottom line question is: will any of this impact schools and classrooms? Does this latest organizational chart lead to improvements in how students learn and are assessed? Of course it’s way too early for clear answers. Bureaucracies like ours just don’t change very quickly.

I would like to believe that things will change in our district. I really would. Maybe this latest reorganization, combined with other initiatives from the superintendent (like the Portrait of a Graduate project), is the one that leads to that “learning revolution” I’ve heard our leadership speak of.

However, over the years I’ve seen too many of these promised “new way of doing business” to know that the odds of any meaningful change resulting from them are very low. There are far too many factors beyond the organizational structure that will work against any meaningful changes. 

You’ll hear many of our school and community leaders using phrases like “21st century learning”, “global student”, “4Cs”, “world class education” while still believing there’s little or nothing wrong. That the basic structure of our instructional system is solid and needs only a few tweaks.

We also are hobbled by a community, one of the wealthiest in the US, that refuses to adequately support essential elements of society like education and health, and politicians more worried about getting re-elected than about explaining to their constituents that, no, you can’t have high quality anything without paying for it.

Bottom line, standardized test score are high, the dropout rate is low, something like 80+% of our graduates go on to college, and every one of our high schools rank high on the Post’s “challenge” index. Oh, yeah, and real estate prices are solid.

How do you improve on that?

Here We Go Again

Our office here in the overly-large school district is being reorganized. Again.

And this is nothing new. Our director is retiring this week and whenever we get a new boss, they make major changes to the organization. I think this is number five or six in the time I’ve been working here, the last coming less than two years ago when the whole department was shaken up as we moved to a new building.

None of this bothers me. It’s all part of working in a big bureaucracy and change keeps things interesting. However, I wonder how effective these changes really are in the long run. After all, there shouldn’t be a need to do another reshuffle if the last one really worked, right?

Based on past experience, I see two big potential problems with this kind of reorganization. One comes from internal communications, or possibly miscommunications. Unless the reasons for the new structure is understood – and accepted – by everyone, some people will continue doing the same job they’ve done in the past (or whatever is comfortable).

The bigger problem comes from the responsibilities our group has in supporting our many schools, as well as other parts of the department. Most of those people don’t really care about our org chart and, unless we make everything clear to them, they will continue to go to the same people who were able to solve their problems, regardless of their new role. We just are not good at saying “That’s not my job.”.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how things change – or don’t – over the next few months. I’m going to do my best to make it work (I think I understand the purpose) but we’re getting a new school board in January, it’s possible our current assistant superintendent could be moving on up, and the top superintendent has already announced his retirement at the end of his contract. Another reorg is not too far off.

Incidentally, my part in all this is that I will now be working exclusively with middle and high schools, instead of being split between elementary and middle, and the curriculum specialists at those levels. I’ll let you know how that works out.

It’s The End of the World as We Know It

Over the past week or so that particular song from REM has been running in and out of my warped little mind as the changes just keep on coming here in our little corner of this overly-large school district.

Building on the chaos still churning from our big reorganization this year, we now have dire warnings of even more extreme budget cuts than we got this year.

Plus the superintendent announced this week that the school board has leased a new building elsewhere in the county and some of us will get sent to live there, although there’s still much uncertainty as to who and when.

With all that and a variety of other, lesser changes, I get a feeling from many of my colleagues that they believe this is the end of the educational world we’ve known.

It would be excellent if that really were the case, but I suspect it won’t happen.

During times of major upheavals some people re-evaluate their processes and test new ways of doing business.*

Many others cover their heads, hunker down, and wait for the storm to blow over.

The institution that is American K12 education, one of the most tradition-bound in our society, is in that second category.

And, unfortunately, once the economy recovers, our schools, and probably most in the US, will return to the comfortable feeling of business as usual as fast as financially possible.

Some things will change, of course, but I doubt it will be anything substantial.

So, it’s the end of the world as we know it.

But the one that replaces it will likely look very much like the one we had before all the economic trauma.


* I wish a whole lot more of that was going on at a state and national level.

Picture: End of the World by Yahya Natanzi, used under a Creative Commons license.

Happy New Year

A little over a month ago I ranted about the organizational changes now going on where I work, here in a small corner of the instruction department in our overly-large school district.

In that post I also mentioned that I would also be getting a new job, something that was unrelated to the rest of the departmental churning.

So as of today, I am now the new middle school guy in the office.

Filling in the context, our little group (five people, soon to be six when the hiring process is done) is responsible for the support and training of all the school-based instructional technology trainers in our schools, just over 200 of them.*

For the past five years or so, I’ve shared responsibility for the elementary group with Karen (a creative force and animal photographer extraordinaire!) and will now be working with the middle school trainers, taking the place of Terry (also very talented!) who retired yesterday.

Ok, maybe not such a big change. The move isn’t a promotion, not “moving up” (hate the implications of that phrase!), simply a sideways shift. And I already know most of the people involved, which makes things easier.

Even so, this is hardly the end of the alterations for our office. Anytime one member of team that’s been working together for a long time is replaced, the dynamics will be different.

Not to mention our ongoing challenges of forming and maintaining working relationships with all the new people in new boxes, plus the folks we already know now in their new boxes, on the recently revised departmental org chart.

However, beyond all that reorganizational stuff going on at work, I still have that little voice in the back of my head conversing with me about other, more personal, changes that need to happen. (Yes, I talk to myself. :-)

I’m not sure what form the personal alterations will take (no tats!) but the voice keeps coming back to doing more about walking-the-walk and less talking.

Like following Gary Stager’s lead and refusing to accept excuses for the lack of progress in making great use of the powerful tools we have available.

And I’m also feeling the need to do something more/different with this space and the two others I work on irregularly. Not sure what that means either, so at this point it’s just a sense that something is not right.

Anyway, all of this increasingly incoherent rambling finally brings me back to the title.

I’ve always believed that we celebrate the new year in the wrong month.

September, the fall, feels far more like a starting point, or more appropriately a reset point, than does the first day of January.

More and more our traditional New Year’s Day seems more like the welcome termination of an incredibly long endurance contest.

So, I’m celebrating today. Happy new year everyone, and for me, welcome to my new beginnings.


*For those of you elsewhere in Virginia, you probably know them as ITRTs – Instructional Technology Resource Teachers. Our system, being the center of the known educational universe (the PR office says so :-), uses a different job title.

Patching Up The Ritz

Another company steeped in the analog tradition is trying to figure out their place in the digital world.

Within weeks, Ritz said in an interview, the company, called Ritz Camera & Image, will reinvent itself in a new ad campaign aimed at drawing a hipper crowd into its stores, which now number around 375.

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They plan to sell smart phones alongside a stock of digital cameras. Customers can supply their digital images and video clips and Ritz will package them onto a DVD, with chapter breaks and music. And if they want LCD HD televisions on which to view those images, they can buy those, too, from Ritz.

The retooled Ritz Camera & Image will “appeal to younger customers who were brought up in the computer-digital world who may not understand everything that photography means to them,” Ritz, 60, said in an interview in his oak-paneled office at the company’s headquarters in Beltsville.

I wonder if the people at Ritz have bothered to talk to this “hipper crowd” they’re trying to turn into customers.

Do they really want physical media like DVDs when it’s so easy to post pictures on the web (for free), create slide shows (for free), embed the show in a web page (for free or very close), and share the results through multiple channels (for free)?

As for video, many people in the demographic Ritz seems to be aiming for don’t care if the end result is all that polished. Normally the video is recorded and posted with little editing in between.

It will be interesting to see what the company does in their transformation, especially since photography is rapidly moving away from the formal process that was at the heart of Ritz’s success for so many years.

I haven’t been in a Ritz store in many years (probably not in their target group for the future anyway), at least since I purchased a DSLR (online, not in a physical store) three years ago.

And there’s nothing in this story about their plans for reorganization that will entice me to return.

Photo by BOSSoNe0013 and used under a Creative Commons License.

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