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North Ave., Why Are You So Bad At Email?

April 27, 2018

Whether you work in the public or private sector, a fundamental rule of professional communication is if someone calls or emails you, you will get back to them within 48 hours. It's simple, it's respectful, and it's asked of you no matter where you're employed.

 

Sadly for educators who've been recognized by the district and the union as exemplary, and therefore been asked to serve on focus groups to improve aspects of Baltimore City Public Schools, this baseline of professionalism has not been extended. Over the past two years of our attempted collaboration with the Office of Achievement and Accountability (OAA) and Human Capital, a pattern of unresponsiveness emerged.

 

 

At one point we became so frustrated with the process that we brought our concerns publicly to a school board meeting, where we were met by a team of higher-ups in the lobby after our testimony. They committed to responding to our emails within 48 hours (and to CC them on these communications should the problems reoccur). Unfortunately, the issue persisted within days of that board meeting and the associated promises. In fact, of the 14 concerns and suggestions regarding the School Performance Measure (SPM) sent, and re-sent, and re-sent a third time, all we ever got back was an apology for not responding, and a promise that someone would look into it from Human Capital. It took 11 months before another communication came, which only addressed 1 of the 14 points shared.

 

For the purposes of this post, we'll put to the side the substantive disagreements that were had over the issues themselves in these focus groups (though there certainly were many). No one ever demanded that OAA and Human Capital adopt all of our suggestions, but we did expect at least a response with a rationale for why decisions were made and thoughts on what a future partnership might look like.

 

Fast forward to the July 2017. Despite having poor experiences in the past, many teachers optimistically returned this summer to provide feedback on how BCPSS could improve teacher evaluation. We hoped that lessons learned from the past focus groups could create a better collaboration. Sadly, it was more of the same.

 

At the July sessions, promises were made to collect and share the notes from all groups with the participants and the public, and to create a more thorough process than a one-off meeting. 9 months later, after repeated attempts and reminders, the notes were never shared and no further meetings have occurred with the participants on the subject.

 

This begs many questions:

  1. Why does this keep happening? 

  2. Who holds Human Capital and the Office of Achievement and Accountability accountable, and how?

  3. Why would community partners want to collaborate with these offices in the future given their past treatment?

  4. How will North Ave. address the distrust generated over years between educators and themselves? How can we build a more functional, productive and respectful relationship moving forward?

 

This disrespectful lack of communication does not extend to all leaders and offices at North Ave. CEO Dr. Santelises has been very responsive to outreach from BMORE educators, and Joseph Straaik, a school board liaison, has been excellent at keeping stakeholders in his group on school police policy informed. When he has not been able to share certain documents due to factors outside of his control, he has proactively let the group know in advance why, and put forward a new timeline for us to expect.

 

 

What's gathered below is a timeline of communications had between the School Performance Measure (SPM) focus group, and then the Teacher Evaluation focus group. 

 

Timeline of SPM Focus Group Communications

 

2016

  • January 15th: SPM teacher focus group convenes and shares feedback.

  • January 21st: Focus group teachers emailed to ask when the final formula would be finalized and shared publicly.

  • May 21st: We follow up asking why there had been no response to our communication from 4 months ago and what the answers were to our questions.

  • May 23rd: Office of Achievement and Accountability (OAA) responds to our questions, saying the formula was finished and scores were made available to principals.

  • May 27th: We asked why our suggestions to control for poverty and others had not been utilized.

  • June 2nd: Having received no response, we reiterated our questions.

  • June 8th: Having still received no response, we again reiterated our questions. OAA responded, at this point, evaluations had already been