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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Looking Ahead: Part III, Can An "Insider" Be A Change Agent?

This is the third in a series of essays on the what the Oklahoma City School District should look for in a future superintendent for its schools. I have written that we might be well advised to look internally, inside our district, to find our next superintendent. This person I have termed an "Insider" as opposed to an "Outsider", someone whose has no prior connection to Oklahoma City Public Schools.

I would now like to deal with the problems that an Insider would have in bringing about real change in our district, something all agree is desperately needed if we are to do the job we know needs to be done for our students. In politics, it is often to one's advantage to be an "Outsider". Politicians tout the fact that they are "Outside the Beltway," or that they are going to bring real change to Washington or whatever state or city they want to reform because they have not been one those "Insiders" who have been messing things up for so long. Of course, once the "Outsider" becomes an "Insider," they suddenly proclaim the virtues of "experience" and the fact that they don't need "on the job training" and so it goes.

However, I must acknowledge that an Insider might have problems creating change. For one, if there are problems with the institution, the Insiders have in some small measure been part of it. They also may face resistance to change due to the fact that many of who were their colleagues are now their subordinates. Familiarity breeds contempt as well as jealousy. This will give some of them reason to resist change. Of course, there are no shortages of pretexts to excuse truculence. Whoever becomes the district's leader will have to deal with this one way or another.

I do believe that the Insider has some strengths which may work to this person's advantage. The Insider's familiarity with the people working in our district may allow this person to find means of motivation of which an Outsider may be unaware. The Insider may be aware of the many "landmines" or sensitive issues that have created obstacles to change. The Insider should at least be familiar with the various social and political forces at work in our district. The Insider should, if the right candidate is chosen, have established credibility, what the Greeks called ethos because this person will have worked with the same type of students in the same buildings, and dealt with the same frustrations as the rest of the district's employees. In the Navy this would be called "Blue Water" experience meaning that one has actually sailed the ships and fought the battles.

While this all may seem to those outside our district as so much "fuss and bother" when what is really needed is for someone to "go in and kick tails and take names," they are real concerns when one considers the true nature of a democratic school system such as we have in America. Schools are, after all, a reflection of the society and culture that produced them. Schools in America are different from those in Asia or Europe, for example. Schools in Oklahoma City are different from schools anywhere else in America. The same is true for any district. My plan is next to examine what is meant by a "democratic school system" and then apply that definition to the Oklahoma City Public Schools.

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