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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Arlo Guthrie And The State Department Of Education - In The Same Sentence!!

American folksinger Arlo Guthrie penned an iconic song in the early 1970's (most of you can take the time now to Google that decade since it may be beyond your personal memory) entitled, Alice's Restaurant. It's a rambling tune, best played near or on Thanksgiving (that's when the story actually takes place) that reflected many different issues and the angst of those coming of age at a time of civil strife in our nation - the late 1960's. Along the way, maybe six or seven minutes into the song (I said it was rambling) Guthrie recounts the experience of the song's protagonist during a physical examination following his conscription into the service (of course he was not accepted, since this song was an indictment on the draft). 

"I proceeded down the hall getting more injections, inspections, detections, neglections and all kinds of stuff that they were doing to me at this thing there, and I was there for two hours, three hours, four hours, I was there for a long time going through all kinds of mean nasty ugly things and I was just having a tough time there, and they was inspecting, injecting every single part of me, and they was leaving no part untouched" and on it went for another handful of minutes.

Now what, you may ask, does Arlo Guthrie (son of Woody Guthrie, who wrote and made famous the song, This Land is Your Land) have to do with the State Department of Education? Good question. It would certainly stump any contestant on a TV game show.

Perhaps the primary distinction between my lengthy experience as a principal and my nascent existence as a superintendent has been the number of forms to be completed, each with top secret passwords, filled with numbers of all sizes and words aplenty - all with strict deadlines. After spending so many years operating in the shadows of several different superintendents, observing them in board of education meetings, administrative meetings, and too many other interactions to count - I thought I really knew what their job entailed. I didn't really. It turns out it was like watching a play and believing that you've evidenced the entire project. You never see the crew that constructs the sets, the make-up artists, the costumers, and all the rest of the specialists that are necessary to open the curtains and present the play. I never witnessed those mundane - but important - responsibilities required of superintendents that transpired in the solitude of an office out of eye-sight of principals and other staff members. To all of those who supervised me from that position over the years, I appreciate you even more now than I did before.

What I discovered was, there are forms. Lots of them. Piles of them. There are forms to fill out to get more and different forms. There are acronyms that can make your head spin around and around and fill dozens of bowls of alphabet soup! It's left me feeling like the main character in Alice's Restaurant - being injected, inspected, detected, neglected, and rejected and all kinds of mean and nasty stuff...

Here's a sampling of the various

Education Stabilization Fund
IDEA 611 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Title I, Parts A and D American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Educational Stabilization Fund
Basic Education Data System
State Aid Management System
    Form A
    Form FB
ST-3 Form and Schedules
Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting
Education Law Section 2053 Report
Race To The Top Final Scope of Work
Five Year Building Condition Survey
Annual Fire Inspection
(I sure hope I haven't forgotten any)

If you haven't already been deterred from finishing this Blog post, then I'll tell you that I have thus far, barely, been able to juggle the enormous time consumed by these reports and still engage in activities with the staff and learners of the school that reaffirm our purpose. I'll admit, it's like treading water some times, but I make every effort to address paperwork outside of the times when people are in the building since people remain the focal point of our business. I can fill out forms early in the morning or late at night, but I can only interact with people between 7:15am and 4:00pm. I try to keep a personal pledge to that apportionment, and confess there have been but a few instances of violating that vow (shout out a big thanks to the secretaries that saved me the morning I needed enrollment data, free and reduced lunch statistics, and staff allocation figures hours before an official big deal deadline for the Basic Education Data System submission - whew!).

The wrinkle in all of this is the juxtaposition of the strength and weakness of a school district our size. At times I fantasize about having assistant superintendents who I could delegate the task of being the Chief Form-Filler-Outer, but then I realize that only large districts can justify and sustain the expense of that option. And, a school district that big would dwarf me in terms of being able to really know the learners and personally interact with staff members on more than an infrequent and distant manner. So, you take the good with the bad - and I'll go back to filling in the forms myself for the next deadline - and still feel great about being able to personally greet nearly everyone by name (and they respond by knowing my name and who I am) as they walk up the sidewalk to enter our school. I'd make that decision over and over again - especially since there's no form required for care, consideration, and compassion.

p.s. Please make sure to take the time tomorrow to honor and be thankful for the many, many special people who have served and sacrificed, and are presently serving and sacrificing, in our armed forces on Veterans Day.
Thanks Dad.

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