Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Maybe firing people doesn't make things better...

Michelle Rhee has talked a lot about how she's cleaned house at 825 and gotten rid of a lot of people who were just wasting time and not really doing their jobs. I had no doubts that there were plenty of people downtown who were incompetent -- my first year of teaching I had to submit four change of address forms before I finally started receiving my paychecks -- and assumed that firing some of that dead weight would improve things. My most recent experiences, however, leave me wondering.

Last summer I went to a training that my principal said would be paid for by DCPS. I filled out the necessary paperwork two months ahead of time, and attended the training in Philadelphia. I returned to school in the fall only to find out that no one at my school had ever done anything with the paperwork. After months of wrangling, and finally emailing the chancellor, I got the forms signed and submitted to 825 in May. Since that time I've waited, emailed, called, offered (threatened?) to come down and sit outside people's offices, and I still don't have the reimbursement check. Everyone I've talked to has been very nice and helpful, but apparently getting DCPS to pay for things requires like 47 signatures, the blood of a virgin, and a jade monkey statue.

All this to say that while I generally agree with Rhee that firing some under-performing people in DCPS will improve education, I don't have much evidence to suggest that firing people at 825 has made things run any more smoothly there.

Bollocks.

20 comments:

Sam said...

Absolutely right! I came back to DCPS after two years at a charter school. My first paycheck never came then I finally got a supplemental. My second check was also MIA, so I didn't get a real check for awhile. Needless to say, they never gave me any leave and it took them 5 months of incessant calling and emailing them to finally get that in.

Yes, the attitude is much better and the phones are answered--but we still get no results

Dee Does The District said...

You must call Antonio for any pay issues. Seriously, he's amazing. If he can't directly fix your problem, he will find out who can. He has been a lifesaver this year.

Wyrm said...

The important lesson that is being taught here is to NEVER front your own money for PD. If you do you will be either miserable for a year trying to get reimbursed, or never will.

The one time I fronted money for PD, I was lied to repeatedly, tossed around 825, and eventually got about 60% of what I had been promised. This is not unusual.

Basically, unless you are willing to pay for it yourself, PD from DCPS is not worth the hassle unless you can get it prepaid (which is difficult).

Kings said...

Is this what's called respecting teachers and encouraging advanced training?

Toby said...

I re-read the post and realized that you had fronted the money, which I'm sure you know now was not a wise move. NEVER, nunca, never-never front any money and expect DCPS to pay you back. It won't happen, no matter what they say. And for any new teachers out there, don't expect your first paycheck to come through in a timely (ie: September or even October) manner. Don't count on that paycheck. Let your parents know, have savings, a spouse with a good job. I'm not kidding.

Kat said...

Anthony is a god...G-O-D god. If Rhee could clone him and replace 825 with his copies, things would get done without endless phone calls, unreturned emails and jade statues.

Mr. Potter said...

Is this what's called respecting teachers and encouraging advanced training?

I think it's what's called making me insane. I will say, though, that when I emailed Rhee about this problem, she got the people at my school to get on the ball and submit the paperwork (after an inexplicable 8 month delay). Now it's just stalled downtown. So she was very helpful, but the people at 825 have slowed things down again. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Wyrm said...

I'm glad that Ms. Rhee is helping you out, and I hope you get your money back. However, it makes no sense that you have to write to the Chancellor of a 45,000 student system to get people to do their jobs. Unfortunately, that is systematic, and I'm not sure Rhee can change that culture.

Kings said...

Baby steps and bad management, I'd say, if intervention from the big boss is the only way to get action - and then only partial action.

Where are the systems to assess follow-through? Why aren't these at-will employees at 825 being fired for not serving teachers? She doesn't have to bust the union to make these kind of changes. If she can close schools and get herself on the cover of Time, certainly she can set up a system to serve teachers that doesn't rely on her personal intervention.

Sounds like this Antonio guy can get the job done, maybe someone should clue Rhee in to his methods and spread them around the system.

Kat said...

Excellent points, Wyrm and Kings. I had to email Rhee to intervene on a payroll issue that had stalled in the incompetent quagmire of "management" that was, sadly, beyond Antonio's purview -- much to his chagrin...he apologized profusely for not being able to help me further. (Btw, my mistake for messing up his name earlier.)

I was really shocked to learn not that 825 employees are unable to perform their duties, but so arrogant in their refusal to help you. Never before have I seen salaried employees so rude, incompetent and either outwardly or passive-aggressively defiant...yet still employed. Go figure...

I heard that when Rhee walked through 825 two years ago meeting people, some staff were unable to tell her what their jobs were. UNABLE. WTF?? How is that possible, I wondered. Well, now I know.

How many people can you fire (when perhaps you should fire nearly everyone)? What level of (in)competence is acceptable in order to keep a monolithic org like DCPS functioning? What is the effect on those who remain, even the competent ones? E.g. when I signed on last August, the benefits department, which is responsible for something like 12,000 city employees, was made up of 2 people. And one of them quit a month later.

Dear God, this system (or lack of one, as Kings noted) is far more FUBAR than the public realizes. Every time I get P.O.d at Rhee for some rookie mistake of hers, I think of what she has to work with and it's been relatively easy to forgive her. So far.

Kings said...

The time for Rookie mistakes is over - if there ever was a time. Rhee doesn't allow rookie mistakes for anyone else - in fact new, inexperienced teachers without teaching credentials are presumed to be superior to vets by virtue of not having attended a teacher's college. Principal's get fired after one year - or even after a few months, no reason given.

Rhee got authority to fire administrative employees - and fired a bunch of them - two years ago - and still 825 doesn't work???

lodesterre said...

Yes, 825 still doesn't work. That is because the firings that went on two years ago didn't bother to include assessments on the individuals fired - they were merely let go. If you talked to people who work in 825 - good people, people like Antonio - you might have found that when Rhee and her assistants went through and fired people they never bothered to ask some very essential questions, such as "are these people the kind we want to keep or let go?" That was my first inkling that there was more a desire to change heads than make real change. Since then the firings each year have seemed similar to the first. Yes, some lousy workers go - you can't fire that many and not get some of those who need to go - but, more importantly, many are let go that should remain. This happened this year with the teachers let go in June (see Dee and quite a few others who had outstanding reviews but were let go); with the 24 principals just let go (look at the gains that some of these principals had at their schools, such as Stoddert - in fact Stoddert's gains were better than Oyster's but was Oyster's principal fired? No. Ask teachers at Oyster who their principal is)- and currently there are people at 825 being let go but some of these people are not the ones we need to lose, they are the ones who have the kind of experience we need to keep.

Just keep saying to yourself that something has to be done and don't worry about what is actually done. This way you can keep deluding yourself that firing to success works. Rhee said on NPR that this last round of testing is showing that perhaps what she is doing is right, so I guess more firings are what we are in store for. Don't be surprised when you find yourself among the discards - there is no rhyme or reason to how this works.

Mr. Potter said...

lodesterre,
I think there is a rhyme or reason to the firings -- just not the right one. The people who are fired are the ones who have not convinced their supervisors that they have been successful. Unfortunately, many people can do a good job and not sell themselves to their supervisors. I agree that this is a problem that Rhee needs to really confront: who are we firing and why? If we say we're firing people who do a bad job, we need to make sure that they are actually being assessed and evaluated. Otherwise we're just firing the people who don't look good. And looks can be deceiving.

lodesterre said...

I disagree. I do not think it is merely bad PR that people are getting fired. Dee, again, is a case in point. Quite a few others as well. Stoddert's principal was rated 10 out of 10 in terms of satisfaction by her parents. Her AYP's were better than many, many other schools. There is a pattern in the way the firings are handled. That pattern has held true each time. Look at the complaints here about the problems with the paychecks and downtown. Nothing has changed. These are the same complaints I heard coming into this system 6 years ago and that I have heard every year since. This firing of everyone downtown has been done before and to much the same result - because it takes much more work to change the culture of a place. Firing is easy, managing is hard.

Sam said...

Potter has a point, but not really to Rhee's benefit. The firings going on are not about results and achievement, but about talking the Rhee talk. There are some god awful principal out there with bad test scores who have escaped the ax just because they go around in a "yes, sir" attitude and go along with every crazy mandate. The second someone criticizes the Rhee regime, even if it is on the students' best interest they are deemed as difficult or traitors and get a huge target on their back.

V said...

I used to work in central office and know Antonio. He is absolutely wonderful.. Problem is they won't promote him. Instead of getting people with proven records to go high places and manage others, Rhee has brought NEW people who have never taught, lived in DC or done anything remotely close to what goes on downtown to be the managers...all because they have good degrees from Ivy League places or because they know her from TNTP.

When she came in, she fired the "bad" employees and alienated the good ones, causing a mass exodus of the competent people (myself included) who could have at least trained the newcomers. The problem right now is not the attitude or lack of accountability or lazyness. It's just that everyone is CLUELESS about what to do. Plus, they are short staffed like crazy. Kat is right about the benefits department. They could have superman himself doing the work and it would still be impossible to do it well when the ratio is 2 to 12,000.

Kat said...

You provide an interesting perspective, V, from your experiences inside 825. It's a shame when good people leave. I don't dispute what you say about people being clueless (although for me that conjures images of Night of the Living Dead zombies wandering around 825 and bumping into each other in some dazed state). I'm sure it is a very difficult place to work.

**However** in my experience with payroll and HR, it was not a case of someone not knowing what to do. I was ignored (via email and phone), then given absolute BS stories from people...all with a healthy dose of chip-shouldered attitude. No one at any time said, "Hey, we're sorry this is happening to you, but here's what's going on down here." Instead, I was lied to: my paperwork had been sitting on someone's desk for months. The payroll manager even lied to Rhee (I was copied in on the emails).

So yeah, I get what you're saying, and I believe you when you say Rhee replaces people with PhD/TNTP drones. But some employees there need to go.

Kings said...

Kat, please consider that when people are clueless, for whatever reason, they may resort to the tactics you experienced: ignoring requests, giving BS stories, having a chip on their shoulder and never apologizing or explaining.

It's a way of covering and dealing with their own frustration - not a good way of coping, to be sure, but unfortunately the kind of thing that can happen in an already poisonous environment.

Anonymous said...

A friend who works at 825 described the atmosphere as this: the people Rhee brought in to manage things come to meetings, have their blackberries out the whole time, leave before the meeting is finished, and make decisions based on the partial information gleaned during those meetings. If true than this is not sound management. It's no wonder the problems persist.

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog as I was looking for info on 2009 DC-CAS scores, and this post caught my eye. I agree with a lot of the comments here. 1) Antonio was most helpful in getting payroll money from 825. 2) A lot of people get messed over by not getting paid by the district when they start working here--me included. Seriously, people warned me to have six weeks savings in place, just in case. 3)Getting reimbursement takes forever! I paid for a conference in March...still waiting for reimbursement! My complaints about the lack of reimbursement are getting louder and more often. I have talked to various people at 825. Chancellor's office is the next step, I suppose.