Leading challenging schools: Career-enhancing or career-ending endeavors

Instructional leaders, principals, assistant principals and teachers assigned to Transformation Zone schools face what some perceive to be insurmountable problems. 

GOLIATH J. DAVIS, III, Ph.D. | Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — Over the last 40 years, I have witnessed the evolution of education in America, the State of Florida and Pinellas County. National and state politics have profoundly impacted local school boards, with some changes for the good and others to the detriment of local schools.

While some rave about the impact of the 1954 Brown decision on educational equity, others believe it has done more to adversely impact the education of Black scholars who struggle to overcome poverty and economic despair.

The current culture wars being waged by MAGA conservatives and religious zealots are generating extreme divisions, perpetuating racism, sexism, and homophobia, challenging well-founded historical facts, promoting authoritarianism, complicating attempts to attract and retain educational talent and making it nearly impossible to lead challenging schools and manage school districts.

In Pinellas County, a laser focus on underachieving scholars has been addressed by implementing a Transformation Zone for struggling elementary and middle schools.

Instructional leaders, principals, assistant principals and teachers assigned to these schools face what some perceive to be insurmountable problems.

Instructional leaders at the high school level in south Pinellas ultimately receive the elementary and middle school products and are expected to perform miracles with scholars ill-prepared to perform. Working under the terms of the 2004 Crowley lawsuit, the pressure on the district and the instructional leaders and teachers to close the achievement gap has led to what some perceive as a system replete with inequities.

While the Transformation Zone provides pay enhancements and allows teachers to opt out, instructional leaders are not afforded the same exit freedom. Typically, instructional leaders leave the district through retirement, resignation, demotion, poor health or dismissal. Thus, the question of equity arises.

As a rule, North County instructional leaders are not plagued by poor instruction, chronic misbehavior, high rates of disciplinary referrals, poor academic performance and chronic scholar absenteeism. Therefore, it appears their jobs are less challenging than their counterparts in the south.

How, then, can South County instructional leaders get relief? Should there be limits on how much time instructional leaders in challenging schools must serve? Should the district rotate all instructional leaders and teachers through north and south county schools for specified periods of time? Should there possibly be a career development track designed to not only rotate instructional leaders and teachers but staff as well for career enhancement?

Of course, I am not naive and fully recognize there may be some legal and organizational impediments to implementing the ideas mentioned above. But nothing negates the need to brainstorm these and other possibilities to provide some relief for instructional leaders assigned to the Transformation Zone and other south county schools.

Busing to achieve racial desegregation is no longer legal. However, given the high concentration of scholars who engage in disruptive behaviors in Transformation Zone and South County high schools, should some form of disruptive behavior dispersion be considered to create manageable disruptive scholar balances conducive to supportive educational environments.

Some parents may object, but should parents who cannot or will not control their kids be allowed to disrupt the learning environments for scholars who wish to learn and teachers who are eager to teach?

All of the preceding questions are intended to provoke conversation and thought. While I do not currently endorse one approach over the other, I firmly believe we must address the plight of instructional leaders at challenging schools.

The time they spend in these schools should be career-enhancing, not career-ending. They deserve some relief. At the very least, strong preferential consideration should be given to career-enhancing transfers and promotions for transformational instructional leaders, teachers and staff when opportunities arise.

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