At OPRF, division heads should see both sides

Opinion: Columns

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Steve Gevinson

In part one [Too many chiefs spoil the school, Viewpoints, Nov. 7], I argued that the rapid growth of administration at OPRF combined with an increasingly rigid, hierarchical approach to governance has had a deleterious effect on teaching and learning at the school. Among the key consequences has been diminished teacher access to leadership and participation in decision making. This change has been accomplished in great part through the transformation in the role and position of division head.

Formerly, and typically, division heads were home-grown master teachers who embodied the best qualities of the school culture and emerged to leadership from within an academic division, and in their leadership position perpetuated the OPRF traditions worth preserving while advocating for change where the institution could use it.

At their best, they helped bridge the gap between administrators and teachers, effectively balancing their service to their two masters for the good of the fundamental teaching-and-learning transaction. They were the most important hands-on leaders in the school, with much direct contact with teachers, students, parents, and administrators, and with primary responsibility for hiring, mentoring, and evaluating teachers.

Twenty years ago division heads were teacher leaders with administrative duties. But after the Faculty Senate affiliated with IEA in 1997, the superintendent, with the support of the school board, pulled division heads from the Faculty Senate and labeled them adminiastrators. Yet despite the technical migration from faculty to administration, division heads were expected to continue to serve their two masters — faculty and administration — equally.

In recent years, though, the 50/50 nature of the job has been completely undermined. The teacher and division advocacy part of the job has been effectively eliminated. Except for their daily teaching, division heads have become middle management drones, lieutenants relaying administrative commands to the troops and enforcing them.

One of the administrative tactics for accomplishing this transformation is the practice of hiring new division heads only from outside the school. Just one of the current DHs — the longest serving one — comes from within the OPRF faculty. In the past the ratio was reversed.

Other tactics have made the position much less appealing to those who aspire to leadership. A month of summer work has been added to the job, for no apparent educational reason and with no additional pay; division heads are no longer included in much administrative decision making; and division heads have been removed from the teachers' salary schedule and placed on a more limiting middle-management scale. Three of last year's division heads have moved back to the classroom full-time this year, at least two by choice, which had never happened in the history of the school.

The bloating of administration along with the widening of the divide between administration and faculty at OPRF is a stunning development. It does not serve well the teacher-learner transaction at the heart of schooling. Corporate management protocols and military discipline are not good models for school governance. They distort the nature of the place. Why has it happened?

I will attempt an answer on another occasion.

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