North Ave., Why Are You So Bad At Email?
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:
Why does this keep happening?
Who holds Human Capital and the Office of Achievement and Accountability accountable, and how?
Why would community partners want to collaborate with these offices in the future given their past treatment?
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
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 submitted and received.
April 7th: SPM focus group meets, there is one teacher on that panel, and they meet once. Spring break occurs right after the meeting.
April 26th: SPM scores were released, meaning OAA put aside 5 business days to implement radical changes to a new and untested formula. From the one teacher on the panel, “we very quickly started digging deeper realizing this was not a good idea…Our group of stakeholders protested this change in the SPM…I stated to OAA that they would need to talk to the union before making changes like this, especially in the 11th hour. We did not think this was a good idea, we did not think their rationale was clear, or that their data was sound.”
May 9th: At the school board meeting, teachers testifed, sharing some concerns with the newest iteration of the SPM formula. After the meeting we spoke in the hallway with DeRay McKesson, Jessica Papia, Jerome Jones, and others who defended the new creation. In response to poor communication in the past, we were explicitly asked to make North Ave. officials aware and CC’d should further communications not be responded to within 48 hours.
May 10th: Clarifying questions were emailed to the North Ave representatives who spoke to teachers in the lobby.
May 17th: After receiving no response, another email was sent, emphasizing that no response had been given within 48 hours, as promised.
May 20th: A third email was sent summarizing concerns, and noting that still, no response had been given, to the concerns communicated.
May 20th: We receive an apology for the lack of response, and a commitment that Human Capital would respond to our concerns soon.
NO RESPONSE WAS EVER GIVEN
April 24th: An email was sent, 11 months later, saying that of the 14 concerns listed, one had been adopted (allowing for teachers to access their own school’s SPM reports, instead of having to get it from their principal), with no response given to the other 13.
Timeline of Teacher Evaluation Focus Groups
July 17th-21st: Focus groups are held on teacher evaluation. In response to concerns about past focus groups not being transparent, communicating well, and being one off events where educators aren't involved throughout the creation and revision process, promises are made to share all the notes and feedback from these sessions publicly, and via email to the participants. Furthermore, a draft plan would be shared for ongoing feedback cycles during the school year.
July 28th: An email is sent out thanking the participants, and reiterating the commitment to sharing teacher feedback and creating a ongoing cycle of communication and feedback.
August 6th: Teacher emails OAA about looking forward to the feedback cycle draft plan, and the notes from the meeting.
October 21st: Teacher emails OAA, asking what happened to the notes and draft plan promised in the summer..
October 24th: OAA emails back apologizing for the delay and says they're waiting for final approval on the memo before they can send out.
November 21st: Teacher emails OAA asking again about the notes and feedback draft plan.
November 21st: OAA responds, again apologizing for the delay, explaining other buckets of work they're dealing with, and thanking us for our contributions. Additionally, they explained their intention to work with MSDE, the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and Education First to facilitate additional focus groups, that would take place at the end of the month.
November 22nd: Teacher thanks OAA for setting up the additional groups, and asks why the notes from the summer still can't be shared.
AS OF 4/26/18, 9 MONTHS LATER, NO RESPONSE WAS GIVEN, THE NOTES WERE NEVER SHARED, AND NO ADDITIONAL SESSIONS WERE COMMUNICATED TO THE PARTICIPANTS.