OKC dis­trict staffers to meet with change agent

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - BY TIM WILLERT Staff Writer twillert@ok­la­homan.com

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

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