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…
…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.