Leadership skills are acquired through experience, hence the value of considering and evaluating the roles in which candidates have performed. In this last post on the School Superintendent’s race, their experience in their respective roles reveal the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unknown about Diana Greene and George Tomyn.
[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]
Let’s begin by recognizing that there is a world of difference between being Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction – Diana Greene – and Director of School Development and Evaluation – George Tomyn. This becomes apparent when you try to review their track record; Greene’s role has lots of exposure while Tomyn’s role generates little, if any, by comparison.
Greene gets a very public report card every time the district’s FCAT scores are released. Tomyn doesn’t.
Greene is the current administration’s face for everything in curriculum and instruction, just as Wally Wagoner is the face on facilities, non-instructional, and support services.
Tomyn’s job has been described as “the principal for principals,” being involved in the management of the district’s dozens of schools. It is a huge responsibility, earning the “Director” level title. However, you won’t see Tomyn’s name appearing in the paper apart from his current election campaign.
Media-wise, a bit of digging turns up Tomyn’s sudden resignation in 2010 from the Board of Directors at Florida Blood Centers. He was on the Executive Committee and deeply involved in the messy departure of CEO Anne Chinoda. Having been given a huge pay raise and a fat bonus, Chinoda at the same time was requiring layoffs for 42 hourly workers, amid a furor over conflict-of-interest type Board/management decisions that caused major corporate backers to withdraw their support from the non-profit organization. Having plenty of personal experience with ugly Board conflict myself, let’s acknowledge that there are likely angles to the story that aren’t being reported.
On the other hand, Greene is always in the spotlight, or the crosshairs as it may be, like here and then here. Her senior standing virtually equates her with decisions made by current Superintendent Jim Yancey and the School Board. That isn’t entirely fair, but that is exactly what happens.
Those most noticeably aggrieved by Greene have been folks at Marion Education Association (MEA), the teacher’s union, which chose to endorse George Tomyn. Bear in mind that ‘no endorsement’ was an option. The act of an endorsement implicitly rejects any other candidate, a statement that MEA apparently felt it wanted to make.
Several of MEA’s reasons for rejecting Greene pertain to how funding cutbacks were handled. The Yancey administration made its stated priority to not lay off staff. To that end, open positions went unfilled, programs were curtailed, and painful cuts and compromises were made. Among these correctives was the hiring of certified substitutes to avoid the costs of salaried teachers with benefits, and stretching staff for art, music, PE, and library/media centers to harsh levels, parceling existing staff out to multiple school sites while at the same time paring back program availability.
Greene gets held responsible for these policies, and in all fairness she may have recommended them as options to be considered – that’s her job. Since these actions sought to address reduced funding, wouldn’t the School Board’s refusal to pursue simple funding options be more accurately blamed? What alternate options should have been adopted to cover the millions in budget shortfall? What would Tomyn have done? Specifically? What has Tomyn pledged to do? Specifically? If there were layoffs, rather than these actions, would Greene be blamed for such layoffs, too?
Similarly, Greene was blamed for the administration’s contracting with an anti-labor law firm – a new development – and its hostility to collective bargaining. However, changes in the district’s senior staff capabilities in conducting labor negotiations likely had plenty to do with the newly contracted negotiators. Greene’s role was likely consultative, but she gets the blame. Has Tomyn pledged to end this contract and commit to collective bargaining led by district staff? I haven’t seen anything like that but would appreciate hearing about it.
Sorting through various charges against Greene, the one that continually provokes the greatest outrage, anger, and disdain concerns student testing. It seems like every teacher who would administer these tests complains about the amount of testing. I don’t mean a simple “I don’t like….” It’s more like this comment I received from one teacher:
Dr. Greene’s position on testing… is outrageous. Over 25% of the school year is spent testing students to collect data on what educators already know. The county testing system she developed, promotes and mandates is unfair to students and to teachers. She claims to have raised student proficiency but yet we’re still ranked 43rd in the state. If her system of testing actually worked, we would be doing much better. She is unbending to listen to input from those who have to work this mandated system.
Greene acknowledges that the testing culture imposed by the state has become extreme in its all-or-nothing consequences, and even that local testing is too much, as she stated early in her video interview on “Classroom Connection, October 2012” beginning about 2:40.
However, Greene insists that the local testing regimen has settled to a more modest level since its inception. Further, given the testing culture that has been imposed, Greene asks: what is the alternative strategy to closely monitor comprehension and ensure that students succeed when they face the battery of end-of-year exams? What about Common Core, the national testing regimen that has promised to make FCAT seem like a cake walk? What about teacher merit pay tied to testing?
The most amusing part of this summer’s discussion about Marion’s student testing is that the Star Banner’s Brad Rogers consulted the Madonna of Mandatory Testing, Patricia Levesque, who used the opportunity to soft pedal the very policies which she has championed with Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Florida’s Future; a culture of accountability, running schools like a business, treating students like widgets, and teachers like assembly robots. Levesque takes no responsibility for any local level testing culture that her own testing-is-best movement has wholly inspired and aggressively promoted.
Levesque even had the audacity to write an op-ed of her own, perhaps at Rogers’ instigation since it’s doubtful that she subscribes to the Star Banner. Try this:
As a mom, I take my children to the doctor annually for a physical check-up to ensure they are growing on track. Assessments are annual academic check-ups to ensure students are learning on track.
That’s a lovely sentiment, but if your child fails the annual physical, it may be a terrible disease requiring far more testing to be diagnosed, monitored, and corrected – see Greene’s own op-ed. Mrs. Levesque offers a stupidly deceptive example and shows how (deliberately) clueless she is about Florida’s testing scheme.
In between Rogers and Levesque, Janet Weldon’s op-ed followed Rogers, critical of the weakly inconclusive evidence that Rogers and Levesque cite to claim Marion County over-tests its students. Weldon highlights at the end that the new national level of Levesque’s testing agenda – Common Core Standards – is close on the horizon, indicating how testing will remain the determining factor in public education and its culture, generated by political decisions made outside Marion County.
Nonetheless, Greene should be challenged by the continued vehemence of teacher attitudes. Clearly communication by her and by her senior staff of the singular need for this testing routine failed in too many instances. Communicating policy changes, particularly unpopular ones, requires a huge amount of effort, repetition, enduring withering blasts of anger while listening patiently to complaint after complaint, and unreasonable demand after unreasonable demand. To conduct that communication with over 3,000 instructional staff, much less reach out to tens of thousands of parents and caregivers, would require a full strategy of its own and demand the dedication of a tremendous number of hours.
The price of missing this necessary base is what seems too much in evidence presently, embittered teachers who feel they have been dictated orders and not treated like professional partners in the education enterprise. Alienated, these disaffected have turned in anger and lashed out. As the preceding discussion suggests, the object of their scorn is likely quite misplaced as Greene has been made a punishment surrogate for grievances better placed against Yancey, the School Board, and the idiotic GOP legislature.
Considering Diana Greene and George Tomyn, voters must be clear about how their concerns over unhelpful developments in public education, from testing to funding to political meddling, fit into the voting choices. They also need to be clear-eyed about the vastly different levels of experience and exposure these candidates present. Finally, voters shouldn’t be deceived into thinking that big picture politics don’t play a role in local policies, that somehow the school superintendent transcends the partisan politics that divides our community. Think again. Consider the funding issue and see how politics shapes the dimensions of every funding debate.
Sorry this post is so long, but I hope the series has provided insights.
I particularly welcome ideas for ensuring that students are prepared to pass state-mandated exams apart from the strategy of regular testing. Please use the Comments section below, remembering that Florida is a galaxy or two away from Finland, the top education performer which eschews the Bush/Levesque/industrial testing culture. Seriously.