Saturday, November 15, 2014

Leaders Take Care of their People: Commentary Published in Sunday Eunice News on November 16, 2014

Every Veterans Day, I participate in local celebrations to remember and to honor military mentors who taught me how to be a successful Army officer, and later, a successful public school teacher.

The late General John Stanford (retired) is always on my mind during these ceremonies. When I ran a child development center and other family support programs at Oakland Army Base, General Stanford chose to be my mentor. He elevated my education programs as central to the health of our military organization.

General Stanford often gathered his officers in his home, or at the Officers Club, to discuss his philosophy of leadership: take care of your people, and your people will work very hard to accomplish the mission.

When he retired, Stanford became Superintendent of the Seattle Public School District, with the mission to turn this failing school district around. He put his “people first” philosophy into practice, including the same walk-around management style he used to motivate demoralized Army soldiers who suffered from public disrespect and institutional neglect for more than a decade after the Vietnam war.

General Stanford was so successful as an education leader that he gave the 1996 Education Speech at the National Democratic Convention, and he was cited in many textbooks as a model education leader. Shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer, corporate leaders wanted to reward Gen. John Stanford with a $500,000 bonus. Stanford turned down this money, flatly stating: give it to my teachers, put it in education programs.

Evangeline Parish teachers have not received step increases for more than four years. Some of us experienced pay cuts, even though we've taken on extra duties, our student loads were increased, and we raised our student test scores year after year after year. Our band programs have been severely cut, and there were two massive teacher lay-offs after the economy crashed.

When the state imposes its new health plan, all teachers and staff will take another pay cut, as our governor has chosen to dishonestly balance his budget on the backs of teachers, aides, and support staff.

When the pay cuts, lay-offs, and program cuts were necessary for the survival of our school district during harsh economic times, I was more than willing to do my fair share of belt-tightening.

I don't have children, and I put a good chunk of my pay back into my band classroom, in the hope that we can rebuild our music programs in this parish – because music cutbacks in the past six years have really hurt our students, and it is really hard to rebuild a band program once you completely cut it from your budget.

But, now, I am not so sure the pay freeze is necessary. What caused me to change my mind about our status quo?

It was reported that the Evangeline Parish School Board found it in their heart to award our superintendent, Ms. Toni Hamlin, a 3% salary increase – as a reward for our school district's improved performance scores.

Our buck-trending success was not created in a vacuum, that is, in the Superintendent's office. Our scores went up because teachers, aides, cooks, janitors all went the extra mile on a daily basis.
If the board felt it necessary to give Ms. Hamlin, our highest paid executive this increase to cover the “cost of living,” then, the board should do the same for ALL staff members. If rewards are to be dished out, they should be dished out equitably to every person on the staff.

Sadly, coaches, teachers with extra duties are being told there is no money for fair compensation for their extra effort. Yet, the Evangeline Parish School Board Central Office is giving itself raises and new contracts with built-in salary increases.

At this time of turmoil and mistreatment of Louisiana's teachers and support staff, I miss my mentor, General John Stanford. But, on this Veteran's Day, I am vowing to honor his memory by working for fair treatment of all education professionals. The future success of our school district depends on the fair and equitable treatment of all our employees – not just the handful at the top.

I will always be grateful that General John Stanford taught me first hand his first principle of leadership: if you take good care of your people, they will work hard to accomplish the mission.

It's time for the Evangeline Parish School Board to take care of its people. I hope they will choose to do so, because our students' success is at stake.

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