Principals in the Oklahoma City Public School district are not pleased with their new superintendent, Aurora Lora, and have concerns about some of the changes she is making. They also contend that over the past two years district administrators have created a very negative climate throughout the schools.
At the OKCPS Board meeting on Monday night, a lawyer, representing the district’s building administrators, presented Lora with a letter claiming that morale has been declining due to ineffective leadership, a lack of communication, and administrators that exert control through force and fear.
About 100 Oklahoma City Public School principals agreed to send her the letter.
The letter states:
The District leadership continues to place additional administrative demands that require most building administrators to work in excess of 70 hours a week in order to meet the minimum job requirements placed on their schools from central office departments. Moreover, in most cases, District leadership instructional decisions are ineffectively communicated and place unreasonable demands on building administrators. Then, if District leadership determines that an administrator is not meeting, or makes an error in meeting, its poorly communicated and unreasonable demands, the district uses taxpayer dollars to make it difficult, if not impossible, for an administrator to defend his or her very livelihood and career. Many of our members are afraid to make any complaint for fear of retaliation.
The principals go on to say they’ve tried to go through normal communication paths with their concerns and have not received the help they are looking for.
Lora said $30 million in budget cuts have stretched everyone thin, and understands that people are frustrated. She said she’s held multiple meetings with the principals in the last few weeks.
“I told them I completely agree with many of the things that they’re raising, and we talked about action steps we’d be taking to address their concerns,” she said.
In the principals’ letter, they said they appreciate her talking with them, but are still skeptical that things will get better.
They’ve laid out a list of five things they would like the district administration to do:
- They want the district to hire outside, neutral investigators to examine any allegations or complaints against school administrators.
- They want the district to pay the attorney’s fees of any administrator that is successful in any employment action against the school district administration.
- They want the district to un-do the tweaks they’ve made to the new state standards.
- The principals want to regain control over the federal Title I money they receive. Currently principals have to fill out a waiver in order to spend their Title I money on things that have not been pre-approved by district administration.
- They want district administrators to re-open the building maintenance program and include principal input. Principals said cuts to the district maintenance department means many building issues go unaddressed, and are now the responsibility of the principal.
Superintendent Lora said she’s hired two new assistant principals in response to the school administrator’s concerns. She’s also going to start putting out a weekly newsletter to improve communication and have a town hall meeting with principals every quarter.
The changes the curriculum department made to the new Oklahoma state standards are minimal, she said, and shouldn’t be a lot of work for anyone to implement.
They’ve moved a couple standards down a grade—implementing them a little earlier than the state Department of Education requires. They’re also asking kids to do more analysis, and they regrouped some of the standards in a way they thought made more sense.
“There’s nothing in our standards that we’ve implemented that’s not in the state standards. The only difference is there are a few word changes and things that make them more rigorous,” she said.
Lora said 70 percent of OKCPS kids have to take remedial courses when they get to college, and that’s unacceptable.
“So if that means we have to make our standards a little more rigorous, that’s what I stand for,” she said.
She also said the district is interested in working with John Kotter, a national expert on change management, but said nothing is official, and the district administration is still working on determining whether that is viable.
“At the end of the day,” Lora said, “What we’ve been doing for a long time has not been working out for us. We have to raise the standards. We have to make sure kids are prepared for college and future careers when they leave the system. And I think a lot of the reason I’m coming under a lot of fire right now is because I have really high standards for the work that people do.”