Give Jackie Byrd a chance; give Tim Harris hell

It’s always difficult to make definitive judgements about cultural change in any large organization. It’s especially hard for education, where so many people have so many different interests. And we struggle to agree on facts.

That said, in her short time as interim superintendent, Jackie Byrd seems to have increased principal autonomy and reduced administrative dictates and intimidation; improved the climate of union relations and negotiation; and generally made “healing” a priority. I put that word in quotes because she used it with me when met a couple weeks ago. Byrd and her top staff have been responsive to requests and inquiries made on behalf of Citizens for Better Educational Leadership (CBEL), the citizens group that Wendy Bradshaw and I started. They’ve agreed to meet and discuss ideas and concerns, like the testing and assessment white paper Wendy and others put together.

And more than that, they’ve actively sought our input. Indeed, Byrd called me yesterday not long after she accepted the idea of a one-year contract to talk about how CBEL and others can work together in an ongoing way.

It’s possible this is all a sinister act. Maybe we’re being played by master manipulators. But I don’t think I’m a person known for gullibility. I find Jackie Byrd quite sincere. I also find her best positioned to make immediate marginal improvements in the quality of life for students and teachers in traditional school classrooms. That has always been my top priority. Until she gives me evidence to the contrary, speaking only for myself, I’m going to work with her. I’m fine with removing the interim from her title and having what amounts to a year-long mutual tryout.

As a parent/activist who cares about results at the classroom level, I think it would be irresponsible to position myself in ongoing conflict with people who have the power to make changes, especially when those people express eagerness to work with us. We’ll see how it plays out in reality.

I’ve learned from my experience with the Lakeland Police Department that affiliation and even loyalty to a flawed previous administration doesn’t preclude smart changes in direction, policy, and tone. Sometimes it enables and accelerates those changes. Useful knowledge of personalities and conflicts — knowing who is a problem and who could do more — is a powerful leadership tool. We see hints of this already in ways I’m not comfortable talking about here because I can’t confirm them.

So if Tim Harris or anyone else with the School Board had simply said, “Let’s offer the job to Jackie Byrd at our next meeting,” I probably would have written something in support of it. I would have worked to bring along the many members of our group who look with suspicion at anyone who came from Jacksonville with LeRoy. But that’s not what they did.

By taking the easy way out, by avoiding a public hearing that may or may not have been contentious, they invited the public to say, “Man, that’s shady.” And I think they made Jackie Byrd’s job harder in the short term.

It’s particularly galling that Tim Harris offered the motion to hire Byrd.

Some of you may remember that during the hearing concerning LeRoy’s resignation, Harris called me out by name and challenged me and the rest of CBEL to take an active role in choosing the next superintendent. He chided the lack of public interest in LeRoy’s hiring process. That’s the definition of irony, I would say.

And a little while later, Harris whined that CBEL had not personally invited him to our Polk City meeting in which we talked quite extensively about what we want in a superintendent. He attended, but apparently he wanted an engraved invitation. A few days after that, Wendy Bradshaw and I took time out of our work days to meet with him. We had a good exchange. All of this was meant as an expression of good faith collaboration. It was not reciprocated.

It’s funny, too, because it’s not like Harris is shy about sharing his ideas. On the day he suggested hiring Byrd, his Facebook feed was a festival of childish trans hatred and bathroom cooties panic.

If Harris is man enough to share this…

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…he should be man enough to share a key hiring idea in a way that allows for participation from the public he likes to call out for not participating.

But I think we can see what kind of man Tim Harris is — a smack talking coward who thinks like a caricature of a 12-year-old boy. I don’t think he’s up for re-election this time. But I assure you, anyone who wants to run against him next time will have the support of my money and my keyboard.

I won’t go that far with the rest of the School Board. But I’m not thrilled with them either. Lynn Wilson, I should note, did ask me about Byrd a few weeks back. I told him I was hearing good things and would have no problem if she applied for the full-time job. Maybe he mistook that as an endorsement for killing the search process. It wasn’t. But I still find Wilson to be the strongest School Board member and the one most apt to enforce changes in direction at the board level.

Again, speaking only for myself, I have no interest in creating a massive fight over this. I don’t believe that would advance classroom quality of life in Polk County at all. But public officials need to understand that sometimes it’s not enough just to make a defensible decision. Sometimes your job requires the courage to actively defend that decision in the face of criticism and consequences.

12 thoughts on “Give Jackie Byrd a chance; give Tim Harris hell

  1. Well, Billy….you have nailed it once again. I especially like your comment that the public is looking at this and thinking…this IS shady. Tim Harris, along with the rest of the board, do NOT care about involving the citizens, teachers and parents of the students of Polk County in this very important process. The ONLY course of action that I see fit for us to do as citizens is to vote OUT of office the three that are up for reelection. I’m d.o.n.e. playing nice. I’m done being mad. I’m getting new leadership. End of story.

  2. I agree with the shadiness of not suggesting a public hearing – didn’t they learn their lesson with the lack of transparency of previous regime? – but giving him a hard time for hating on a stupid law based on protecting children is totally irrelevant.

    • Sorry Jeff but as a public figure, he needs to watch his p’s and q’s just like teachers.

  3. I’m just in awe of the lack of awareness the entire school board has demonstrated by this. Did not one of them think “maybe we should discuss this at the next meeting”? They’ve had at least three meetings this school year that were standing room only–probably more interest in their proceedings than they’ve seen this decade–and it didn’t occur to them that it might be a good idea to listen to those voices? I can only see three possible scenarios: one, they genuinely didn’t consider bringing the matter to an open form; two, they considered it, didn’t care, and went ahead with the work session decision; or three, they considered it and went ahead with the work session nomination specifically to AVOID feedback from the public. Any of these are problematic, because they indicate either a board that is egregiously out of touch with its constituency or a willful disregard for the wishes of that constituency. Ms. Byrd may do a wonderful job, but the teachers of this district will have a difficult time accepting and trusting her and she will never be able to entirely distance herself from her predecessor. Billy is right–the board didn’t really do her any favors. If she is truly the best candidate, she will stand up the public vetting process without issue. Now it’s trial by fire, at the potential expense of our children…they deserve better than “give it a year and then we’ll see.”

  4. This move was nothing more than a ploy install a person of their choosing later without public input or vetting. My guess is there is a person waiting in the shadows who is unqualified but well connected ready to just step in, now that the school board has established a precedence for appointing new superintendents. I agree with Cass when she says new leadership is necessary now, and add Tim Harris should resign.

  5. Once again, this School Board has demonstrated that it talks out of one mouth and spits out of the other! They do not listen to the public, the teachers or the input of others. Asking the public to attend meetings and provide input and then to turn around and do something like this is despicable and only shows their blatant disregard to the citizens that elected them. VOTE THEM OUT OF OFFICE! I do recall Tim Harris asking the public’s input and the rest seem to be puppets on a string. How many of them have been to a school to speak to teachers? How many have been to your meetings Billy?

    Furthermore, Mr. Harris should put in his resignation. Like it or not, would a teacher be allowed to post such a picture on their Facebook page? How does that make a student within this county feel should they have transgendered feelings? There are transgendered students within Polk County Florida Mr. Harris!

  6. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Ms. Byrd when she first arrived and met with English teachers mapping secondary curriculum. I loved her energy, enthusiasm, and understanding of the challenges teachers face daily. i think she will work hard to help us help our students succeed.

  7. Speaking from a totally selfish point of view, teachers still don’t have a contract. That does little to inspire confidence in this board. Now, they make this boneheaded move. I need someone I can believe in to lead me – not this circus.

  8. I’m disappointed, however I like you will work with the new administration and do my best to work with CBEL.


  9. As a professional teacher, and having attended one of the meetings, I think the Superintendent needs to address the larger issues: When hired a teacher should be given a chance, not thrown into the wastebasket if something that they do does not jell with the POLITICAL incentives of the principal. The student needs to be EDUCATED. Let the teacher do their job! Do you know that in the state of Florida, anyone can be let go for any reason without having taught a day in the classroom? What kind of “education” is that? Also, the superintendent should have been a teacher with at least 10 years of experience in the classroom, the head of the education department should help us, not hinder us.
    Curriculum must be restructured so that the students LEARN what they are supposed to learn–with data that has been scientifically proven to be helpful.

  10. Maybe she is the best choice…. apparently she was the ONLY choice….. again, the School Board did what it wanted and ignored the tax paying, VOTING public! Hope these same people remember to vote these current board members out…. I, too, have attended several of the school board meetings that pertained to this…. I have had students in the system, have grandchildren in the system now and am a retired teacher…. during the meeting where it was decided that LeRoy would go, Kaye Fields made it quite apparent that she wanted Ms. Byrd to take the job without an interview or say so from the public… at that meeting, Ms. Byrd said that she was uninterested…. somewhere, her interest increased….. my question now, is she now a tax-paying PERMANENT resident of Polk County who might possibly have a vested interest in the education of our county’s students and the success and happiness of our teachers…..

  11. Yes. Give Tim Harris Hell for bringing it up. But we have others Board members that could have spoken up. But as demonstrated before and before we have a “rubber stamp” board. And BTW a few weeks prior to this vote, a Board member told me he was disappointed that Jackie Byrd had not applied for the Superintendent position. Hmmmmm

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