OKC district staffers to meet with change agent
The leader of the union that bargains with Oklahoma City Public Schools on behalf of 2,400 teachers has repeatedly called for the district to transform its “dysfunctional” culture by looking outside of itself.
Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers President Ed Allen reiterated his point at Monday night’s school board meeting, telling members “we don’t have a product people want to buy.”
Allen spent 90 minutes addressing teacher dissatisfaction in the union’s latest survey, touching on multiple concerns that include discipline and communication.
The longtime union boss said problems facing the district “have been decades in the making.”
“The problems are bigger than one individual. The problems were here way before the current superintendent got here,” he said. “If we don’t do anything differently, they’re going to be here way after the superintendent has left and were on to the next superintendent, which is not exactly a recipe for success going down that road.”
On Wednesday, a mix of teachers, principals, school board members and district administrators, including Superintendent Aurora Lora, will meet with representatives from Kotter International, a management consulting firm based in Seattle and Boston.
John Kotter, the firm’s founder, is a retired Harvard professor who specializes in organizational leadership and change.
Lora told board members Monday night the meetings “will give us some coaching on ways that we can work together cooperatively ... to figure out how to solve some of the systemic problems that we’ve been facing for a long time.”
Board member Rebecca Budd said the district “desperately needs help” with everything from processes, procedures and organizational alignment to financial management, strategic planning and culture.
“We need solutions to resolve the disconnect between our teachers and the district,” she said. “We need to make serious decisions on budget priorities that will profoundly affect what our district looks like and the resources it has over the next decade.”
Board member Carrie Coppernoll Jacobs said “there are plenty of things that aren’t working.”
“I think that everyone is trying, but I think that there are things that we’ve got to work on,” she said. “Until we can talk about those problems out loud we can’t fix them.”
Board chairwoman Paula Lewis said 40 percent of the district’s problems would be solved “if we had fewer kids in the classroom and better-paid teachers.”
“We definitely have corporate issues, but we also have a funding issue in Oklahoma City,” she said. “We need more people, and we’re only going to get more people, more human resources, through more funding.”
Reached Tuesday, Allen said Oklahoma’s largest school district is “incapable of reacting to our changing environment” without outside assistance.
“We haven’t figured out anything in the 26 years that I’ve been here,” he said. “That’s a laughable thought to think that we can do this on our own.
“You can come up with 100 great ideas, but because of all the layers of dysfunction it is impossible to do something big in this district.”
In December, Allen organized a meeting in Boston with Kotter that included district and community leaders, Lora among them.
Allen said at the time that district officials were meeting with Kotter about developing a detailed plan to transform the district, which would “be expensive but necessary to implement.”
Lora said the time spent with Kotter “only solidified the district’s commitment to working collaboratively with the union and other partners to make OKCPS a place where every employee feels valued and has the tools to be successful.”
Those plans, however, were put on hold because of the district’s budget problems.
In an email to teachers last week, Allen said Kotter’s approach to change is not a program but a “method of eliminating dysfunction and becoming a district where employees feel recognized and children succeed.”
“The union’s position is that change and success will not come unless we address the dysfunction that cripples our district, stifles your creativity and inhibits your ability to teach,” he said.
Allen pointed out in the letter that while the union is backing a “change process,” the school board will decide whether the district will move forward with Kotter.
The visit by Kotter International is being funded by the Inasmuch Foundation, Lora said.
“The school district does not have plans to provide funding,” he stated. “I have every expectation that we will need to rely on the private sector and foundations to provide financial support should we proceed.”
Ed Allen, president, Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora