Witch-hunt mentality is hurting morale of principals and teachers



by Christopher Paslay


In a recent Inquirer article, Dr. Ackerman spoke about a wounded spirit in the city, a sadness that she described as “ever-present”.  


Although she was referring to the community’s frustration over its troubled public school system, her words could have just as easily applied to the district’s principals and teachers. 


While attending several city-wide professional developments this school year, I’ve come in contact with dozens of principals and teachers from all over the district, and there seems to be a common feeling among many of them: They feel tired, beat-up, and unappreciated. 


A frequent complaint is that they are overwhelmed.  In particular, principals and teachers are buckling under the new administration’s constant threats, the increased paperwork and bureaucracy, and the negative atmosphere in general.


And it appears that the district’s policy of negative reinforcement is only getting worse.    


Like a state trooper trying to meet a quota for speeding tickets, Dr. Ackerman has recently vowed to make sure more teachers receive an unsatisfactory on their performance rating this year, and that more principals are disciplined for failing to meet academic standards (this will undoubtedly attract more talented young people to the district).         


“We can’t have this kind of performance,” Dr. Ackerman told the Inquirer.  “There will be changes in the principal staff, and there will be many more teachers rated unsatisfactory this year.” 


Ackerman said that regional superintendents have been given instructions and training to toughen their standards for observations.


Apparently, by giving more teachers and principals an unsatisfactory rating, the district will raise the educational “bar”.


“. . . we’re setting a standard and a bar that’s much higher than it’s ever been,” Ackerman said.  “Once you set that standard, then people know they can’t produce below it, because there’s a consequence.”


A consequence for teachers and principals, sure (and I’ll be the first to admit there is room for teachers and principals to improve, given the proper supports).  But what about the consequences for the district’s other “stakeholders,” such as parents? 


Incredibly enough, the district doesn’t even require parents to perform the most basic of tasks, such as filling out an application for free school breakfasts.


District officials, as well as state politicians and advocates of the Universal Feeding Program (a plan that requires no application for free meals), have already publicly declared that filling out meal applications is too “daunting” a task for our city’s mothers and fathers, and that we should refrain from using such forms because urban families tend to “reject” paperwork.


Wayne Grasela, the district’s senior vice president for food services, said that the task of getting families to start filling out meal applications would be “monumental”. 


If getting parents to fill out meal applications is “monumental,” how do you think our city’s families handle homework?  Report cards?  Summer reading?  Registration deadlines?  


Of course, this didn’t stop Dr. Ackerman from inviting parents to walk into their child’s classroom—unannounced, mind you—to check things out. 


“The district has no policy that says parents need to make an appointment,” Dr. Ackerman said, explaining that schools “belong to the parents.”


I found this particular comment quite interesting.  If our public schools “belong to the parents,” why then are they not held accountable for these schools, the same way the teachers and principals are?  Why don’t they face consequences for being chronically absent from parent-teacher conferences, for failing to show-up for IEP and CSAP meetings, for failing to sign and return progress reports, absence notes, and insurance forms? 


And when is the district going to step up to the plate and hold the community accountable?  When are they going to start a campaign to recover the almost $5 million in computer equipment that’s been stolen from city schools since 2005, most of which has been taken from impoverished neighborhoods that “lack” resources?


And what about addressing the unruly behavior of the students themselves?  What about the 15,000 criminal incidents reported last school year?  The 1,728 students who assaulted teachers?  The 479 weapons discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms?  The 357 weapons that were found in high schools? 


Besides a lot of “zero-tolerance for violence” rhetoric from district officials, not much has been done. 


But who’s solely to blame for our troubled school system?  The teachers and principals. 



Now we know why there is a wounded spirit in this city.