Tag Archives: Head teacher

New Posts Coming Soon…

Sorry everyone…I’ve been absolutely swamped by work.

A new assistant principal, new teachers to train, new assessments…it’s been a real uphill battle this first week.  The last thing on my mind, honestly, was a new post at the Neighborhood.

I am REALLY trying to get new posts up next week…at least one or two.  Maybe the next week will get me motivated.

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UFT Teacher Bashing: A Call for Jason Kovac to Speak Up

Yeah, I know.  It was a short hiatus.  Yet the recent edition of the New York Teacher got my attention.

The New York Teacher, the publication arm of the United Federation of Teachers, used to be a fun read.  Lately, it’s been moribund with stats, election endorsements, ads for condos in Florida, and pictures of union functions featuring teachers in all sorts of ghastly knit patterns.

What made the Teacher fun was its “outing” of what were considered bad or dangerous school administrators.  Every week, the paper had a half-page expose on some dictatorial principal, a martinet superintendant, or the bewildered staff developer that lets things slide out of confusion and neglect.  Comedy, as we all know, is tragedy that happens to someone else. so I got a particualr joy out of reading these, because

(a) for the most part, these guys deserved a comeuppance, as evidenced by their smug demeanor to UFT reporters; and

(b) these hapless administrators were not mine.

This week’s Teacher has returned to its muckraking roots with a vengeance, yet I’m getting a feeling that full access to both sides should be in order.

Page 5 of the December 16, 2010 issue features a particularly venomous screed against PS 14X principal Jason Kovac.  According to the article, Kovac–a Leadership Academy graduate (a program created to make principals from outside the education world) who took over PS 14 in June 2008–is rude, arrogant, and intimidating to his teaching staff.  He chastises and bullies teachers in front of students, ignores grievances and along with his co-principal Mildred Jones, has created an atmosphere so poisonous that this once thriving school dropped from an A to a C on its recent Progress Report.

He has made enemies of the school staff, parents, community board and the union.  Yet his voice is noticeably silent from this article.  I really hope the New York Teacher managed to contact his office to at least offer comment.  Otherwise, its a severe breach of journalistic protocol.

Whatever the case, as much as I would like to see principals like this hung out to dry, my belief in honest journalism impels me to ask Mr. Kovac to offer his side of the story.  Therefore, I am offering this space in Mr. D’s Neighborhood to Jason Kovac to present his side, with the following guidelines:

(1) no ad hominem attacks.

(2) share the improvements you have made since you took over in 2008; and

(3) address why your leadership style has generated so much alleged venom from staff, parents and the community, at least according to the article.

Anyone who’s familiar with the Neighborhood knows that it generally keeps to a pro-teacher stance.  However, it bothers me that I hear nothing from the other side–it just against my good sense of journalistic integrity.

If Mr. Kovac can keep to the guidelines, he is more than willing to send me his side of the story so it can be printed here for the readers at the Neighborhood.

Anyone who works at PS 14, or knows anyone at PS 14, please send this link to Mr. Kovac, with my compliments.  I hope to hear from him soon.


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The Many Styles of Principals

seymour_skinnerPrincipals are not necessarily the lynchpin of a school–just ask Seymour Skinner here, Principal of Springfield Elementary School on The Simpsons. Springfield Elementary runs in spite of its principal, not because of it.

However, a good principal can make a school an efficient, exciting and pleasant place to work in and to learn.  Bad principals turn into Seymour Skinner.  An indifferent principal can make a bad situation worse, or make a good situation better due to a staff that, unlike their leader, has a clue.

I got to thinking about principals and their leadership styles when I was listening to colleagues over the past couple of weeks.  Many feel that the problem is not overbearing leadership, but rudderless leadership–especially in maintaining morale among teachers.  There are incidents of infighting, gossip-mongering, and undercutting at any school, to be sure.  Yet it seems that in my school there are people out to make sure no one is outperforming the others, either through gossip, subterfuge or downright sabotage.  There is little, if any, response from the administration, although a similar attempt at dissinformation was tried by a disgruntled staffer years ago and was thwarted adeptly by the principal.

At first, I thought that this was an attempt to be “above the fray”, to re-focus energies on more important tasks, like children’s education.  However, I began to think of other systems that had infighting and gossip as a common practice. You wouldn’t believe it–Nazi Germany.  Hitler, for all his numerous faults, knew how to keep control of his minions.  There was no one office that answered to Hitler; Nazi government consisted of competing agencies of equal status and power that would compete and undercut each other for Hitler’s favor.   For example, to actually communicate to the Fuhrer, there was the Office of the Reich Chancellory, the Office of the Party Chancellory, the Office of the Presidential Chancellory, the Privy Cabinet Council or the Chancellory of the Fuhrer.  They all had the same job–keep the boss happy.  With such a chaotic situation among the lower managers, Hitler safely asserted his authority.  It is similar to “divide and conquer”, but it’s more like a pack of dogs trying to please their owner.

Now I’m not saying my principal is Adolf Hitler–in fact, he’s probably one of the better principals I’ve seen.  I have a good rapport with him, and he has genuine affection for the kids.  It’s just that his style can best be described as “soft authoritarian.”  While he makes a point to delegate authority and spread the workload, he makes it very clear who’s in charge–and the faculty know this.  Hence the undercutting and gossip; it appears meant to maintain control.

I hope that’s not the case.  Control and leadership are two different things.  Hitler may have been in control, but he was not a good leader.  His system lent itself to the most radical and extreme ideas, without any way to debate or discuss them.  Principals that attempt games with their staff can fall into the same trap–instead of the best and most innovative ideas, internal division can lead to stagnation, or radical changes with little foresight.  Principals in control are not always good leaders.

Educators cannot choose the administration of a building.  However, their actions are tied to the actions of the administrators.  This interaction is vital to the development of functioning schools.

Just don’t get too close.  Ask Mr. Skinner and Ms. Krabappel.

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