Education Opinion

Decisions, Decisions

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — October 24, 2007 5 min read
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Yesterday, I posed a question for my blog readers which required them to decide which of three simultaneous problems I addressed as the most urgent. As a reminder here are the problems: 1) the report cards for Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten had to be picked up from the print shop. Report card conferences are Thursday. 2) The photographer forgot to take pictures for IDs and cumulative folders, only taking pictures of students who wanted to purchase his photo packages. 3) Two staff members got into an ugly argument which was witnessed by several parents.

I have several comments that were sent to my email address and are not posted on the blog site so I will summarize them. Everyone thought that I would focus my attention on the two staff members who were arguing in the front office. I did not. No one thought I would pay attention to the photographer issue. Actually, I left that problem with the Business Manager. Also, everyone thought that picking up the report cards should have been delegated to someone with less authority than the Board President. If that’s what you thought I did, you were wrong. I picked up the report cards. How hard can it be?

For two or more weeks, I got feedback from the school’s Leadership Team on a design for our report cards. Although we have report card software in our new student information system package, we can’t use it yet. The training on the various components of the program is taking longer than expected. We are already almost a month behind in reporting our student enrollment data for annual funding and our teacher certification data. The new program was not as easy to get started as the sales representatives made it seem to the Recovery School District technology guru, I guess. We have these two vital parts of the program working, but since the template must be individualized for the report cards to fit our pupil progression plan, it will have to wait.

In the meantime, we designed a quarterly progress report and took it to the print shop to have it printed on NCR paper. The report cards for grades 1 to 8 are okay. The Pre-K and Kindergarten reports were in a separate order. Somehow, the second order got mixed up and the copies were run on regular copier paper, not the 4-part carbonless packets we needed. Actually, on Monday I had delegated the task of picking up the package to someone else. When he called me from the print shop to tell me that the order was not what I expected, I decided to pick it up myself on Tuesday to be certain it would be delivered to the teachers on time.

With only one day to spare, I wanted to make sure the order was correct. Also, the other two people who have signature authority for the checking account were unavailable. We could not get a school check to pay the bill. I wanted to use my new bank debit card to pay for the $200 invoice, but I had not activated the darn thing. I did not know the school’s bank account number which the automated voice at the other end of the phone requested and the Business Manager was out of town for the day. I could have delegated the task to someone, but none of the people who could make the pick-up had $200 bucks to spare. The easiest solution was to do it myself.

The situation with the photographer is really more complicated that it looks. We need student IDs for security purposes, the discipline plan, and field trips. We also want photos of all of the children to complete the cumulative records on our new student information system. I was upset to learn that only some of the students had been photographed. I was hoping for digital photos of all of our students for our records.

I was more upset when neither the Principal nor the Business Manager could tell me who authorized the photographer to take the pictures in the first place. We did not have a signed contract for him to sell his packages. Although I did business with this photographer for many years while I was a principal, pre-Katrina, I always required a signed contract. Many schools did not bother with that technicality. Obviously, some schools are still operating that way; I just don’t want to be one of them!

With the transparency expected in a charter school operation, we have made a point of proving our fiscal responsibility by getting at least three bids on every vendor service. I had three photography companies in mind, when I asked this gentleman to visit our school and talk to the principal about his packages. It’s actually a fund raiser for the school so bids are not really necessary. But a contract is required for proper business relations. Already, we have a disagreement about the percentage he wants to take from the funds raised. We have a wonderful Principal, an excellent Business Manager, and I’d like to believe, a competent Board President. Defining our roles and duties got confusing when the seasons changed. At least, that’s what I’d like to think. We each thought that someone else had taken care of the important details. None of us did.

Have you heard the story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody? There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.

By the way, I was clear on whose role it was to deal with the two employees who made a public display of their disagreement in front of several parents and students. That one was definitely for the Principal. She’s handling it very well. I did not get involved with that issue because the investigation, reporting, and recommendation for disciplinary action had to be determined by the building administrator, before it was presented to the Board. As the Board President, it would have been inappropriate for me to get involved before the Principal had time to exercise her authority with her staff. If you picked the staff issue as the one that was most important, you are correct. It just wasn’t urgent that I get involved. I politely stepped out of the Principal’s way to let her do her thing.

Knowing what to do is necessary. Knowing how to do it is important. Know what is urgent is not always easy to figure out.

The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.