I often bemoan, if not openly criticize the seeming slowness with which administrators are leading (or not leading) the charge to transform our schools. From my perspective as a teacher, they are an easy target, having voluntarily placed themselves squarely in the bull’s-eye after all. But just the other day I had a conversation with my superintendent that gave me pause. My superintendent has been holding small, informational meetings outlining the status of our district within the current New York State budget crisis. He explains how New York has filled budget holes with federal funding that will expire in another year, and that when that funding is gone our district will have nearly a half a million dollar hole of their own to fill. He continues to outline the choices the district (he) will have to make if the governor follows through on his threat to withhold promised funds for the spring. These choices include whether or not we can afford to have any spring athletics at our school, and whether it would be better to cut two assistants back to half time positions, or to cut one completely. In a district of this size these are people we know, who’s kids are friends with our kids.
When the meeting concludes I hang back for a moment as I usually do to chat about the status of technology in the district. He asks me how things are going and about the progress of a couple of projects that are going on. As I am about to leave I say half jokingly: “Is this a bad time to bring up my 1:1 laptop program idea?” He grins and I follow up with: “What is your opinion about these programs?” He says in my aha moment of the day: “I haven’t.” Then he points back to the pie chart projected on the screen, that spells a possible doom despite its pastel colors.
It was only later upon reflection that I realized the gravity of that instant. How can we expect our administrators to be thinking about whether or not our students are learning 21st century skills when they are trying to figure out how to pay for heat? My Superintendent used to be a teacher, and from the little I know a good one. I know that he would rather be talking about these intellectual ideas with me but he just can’t when the futures of people we know hang so precariously on every decision he makes. Until the day that public schools are funded in a more equitable way situations like this one will continue to exist. Administrators, especially in small schools will be too preoccupied with counting beans to look much beyond the following year. So consider giving your administrators some slack. I know I’m going to.