by Dr. Troyce Fisher, SAI Executive Director
"Everyone wants to get to heaven,
but nobody wants to die."
---some country western singer
I'm writing this first column as executive
director of SAI on the night that Al Gore conceded victory to
George Bush. I watched both of their speeches to the country
after a day of packing boxes in preparation for my move to Des
Moines. In the mail today the latest copy of Ed. Leadership arrived,
with the cover story entitled, "The Changing Context of Education."
The latest Newsweek arrived too, and its cover story was summarized
in one word: "Chaos." I had just finished reading the
School Administrator this morning with its haunting question on
the cover: "Does high stakes testing doom the standards
movement?" Clearly, we exist in an age of constant transition.
As educational leaders, we are challenged by demands for increased accountability for student achievement, as we move to a system that is standards-based, not only in terms of curriculum, instruction and assessment, but also in terms of teacher and administrator behaviors. We are seeing a shift in the thinking about what makes a great leader from emphasis on managing a "tight ship" to leading the ship into uncharted waters of school transformation, while still being expected to arrive safely in port. We in Iowa are in the midst of a conversation about creating a whole new way of compensating teachers (and eventually, administrators), based on a very different set of criteria than what most of us are used to.
Most importantly, many of the children we serve are in a state of transition that few of us adults can truly understand: living in changing family structures; adjusting to a new culture; being expected to think and learn in new ways; taking a global economy for granted in a technologically savvy world; being on one side or the other of the gap between the haves and have-nots; struggling with substance abuse or violent crime or alienation; and on and on.
As with any time of transition, we are faced with the opportunity to create our future collaboratively or react to what happens to us. Change is seldom easy. We want the good results, but often find it difficult to learn new behaviors that will get us there.
As members of the School Administrators of Iowa, we are in a unique position to impact life in Iowa for the good, not only for the children we serve, but for the adults who serve them, as well. Here are the most pressing challenges (transitions) I see for our Association in the next five years:
- How can we effectively enhance our collective skills as a profession to model the shift from management to leadership as the guiding paradigm for our day-to-day operations for school improvement?
- How do we recruit and train the best and the brightest to enter school administration with a deep understanding of the moral and ethical nature of this work?
- How do we help our various publics understand the difficult nature of our work and the value we as administrators add to the educational enterprise?
- How can we most maximize our common interests through collaboration with our colleagues in other educational entities, all of which share a mission to educate each of Iowa's children to the highest levels?
- How do we continue the tradition of excellence that SAI has stood for, continue to re-define our association to meet the changing professional world we live in, and strive to be the best we can be?
It will take all of us working together to make the transitions we know need to be made. I have been blessed by the helpfulness of Gaylord and the rest of the SAI staff in the past months to make my transition to this position a graceful one. I look forward to working with each of you as a partner in the transition to a new way of leading schools, and pledge to do my best to live out the mission of SAI, because, literally, the future of Iowa's children-and Iowa-depends on us. Let's have at it!!
Hearings & Appeals
by Kathy Lee Collins, J.D., SAI Director of Legal Services
There have been at least two questions from members recently about what the procedures for a "hearing" and an "appeal" look like. That's enough in my mind to justify a CYA column on the subject, so here we go!
Student Disciplinary Hearings:
Let's remind ourselves of the basics:
- Students facing a deprivation of liberty or property by government (the public school, in this case) are entitled to due process of law.
- Procedural "due process of law" means giving a person notice of what s/he is accused and an opportunity to be heard, to tell his or her side of the story.
- A student's right to an education is a property interest.
- A student's school record may create a liberty interest (if what we write in his or her file is designed to or has the effect of limiting the student's ability to get a job or be accepted into a post-secondary educational institution).
- There is such a thing as a "de minimis" effect on one's property or liberty interest. For example, sending a student out of the classroom to the office or sending the student home for the last couple of hours of the school day would probably have little or no effect on his or her property right to an education. Writing a disciplinary report that a student was mouthy or impolite or insubordinate to a staff member and was assigned detention or ISS would have an insignificant ("de minimis") effect on his or her liberty interest.
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1978 (Goss v. Lopez) that students facing a loss of education for ten days or less are entitled to "minimal due process." This was defined as "oral or written notice of the charges against him and, if he denies them, an explanation of the evidence the authorities have and the opportunity to present his side of the story." THIS IS A DUE PROCESS "HEARING" as described and approved by the United States Supreme Court. Notice that there is no requirement to give notice to the parents or guardians. Our "hearing" is between teacher or administrator and student. The only possible exception would be if a student is not competent mentally to understand what's going on. In such a case, a parent or advocate for the student should be notified and given the chance to assist the student.
- The purpose of giving someone due process is to reduce the potential for error
or mistake. There is no guarantee (and never has been) that government won't make a mistake and occasionally punish someone who is not guilty. But giving due process (a hearing) is supposed to lower the likelihood of "unfair or mistaken exclusion" from, in this case, the student's right to an education.
- The Supreme Court also recognized there may be times (emergencies) when we exclude the student first and give him or her due process later. That's OK.
- A generally understood requirement of due process is that the decision maker be impartial; that is, s/he should not have a stake in the outcome. Just having information doesn't make one biased or prejudiced.
- The Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is, according to the Court, "flexible." How much "process" is due an individual depends upon the nature of the deprivation. I would translate that statement as "How extensive the hearing is depends on what kind of loss is at stake." In other words, if the government is proposing to deny a person his life (i.e., execution), we would give that individual all available, known rights at trial and multiple appeals prior to
execution. As execution is the worst thing government can do to its citizens, we try very hard to make sure we're not making a mistake before we drop the pellet, throw the switch, pull the trigger, etc. No guarantees, though.
Obviously, excluding a student from school is not in the same league with an execution, but expulsion is the worst penalty a school district can impose so in a way it is our version of "capital punishment." Thus a student facing expulsion is typically given a full hearing with the following rights to:
* adequate written notice delineating the
student and parents' rights at hearing and
specifying the date, time, and place of
* names (or positions) of witnesses district
expects to give evidence;
* counsel at their own expense;
* copies of documents presented at the
* cross-examination of (or "right to ques-
tion") witnesses for the district;
* produce witnesses of their own;
* hold a closed hearing unless an open
hearing is requested;
* a written decision following (a few days
after) the board meeting.
The hearing should be recorded whether open or closed, and, if the student or parent requests a copy of the tape(s), you will provide that. (The tapes would not include board deliberations, however, assuming they occurred in closed session. It's best to start a new tape for deliberations in closed session. If the hearing was open, deliberations presumably take place in open session as well, so there's no need to start a new tape in that circumstance. Taping is not necessary at all if you hire a court reporter.)
Contrast the rights that are afforded to the student facing expulsion immediately above with the Goss rights of a student facing a suspension of ten days or less. The student is only entitled to one hearing per infraction. An exception would occur when you suspend a student briefly (< 10 days) pending a board hearing on a recommendation to expel. The student gets the "minimal due process" hearing in your office for the suspension, then a letter home outlining all of the rights to be afforded in the expulsion hearing.
Several federal courts, including the Northern District of Iowa, have concluded that a loss of extra-curricular eligibility (i.e., through application of the Good Conduct Rule) only requires "minimal due process," the same as a student facing a suspension of ten days or less. That is, all the court believes is necessary is oral or written notice of the violation and, if the student denies it, an explanation of the evidence you have. You can always give more process than is due, so be careful of how you write your Good Conduct Rule or you may be deemed to have promised more rights than the law would require.
- Another basic element of due process is the right to appeal, but that right is not addressed in Goss. There is, however, a right in the First Amendment that would arguably apply, and that's the right to "petition the government for redress of grievances." The school board, as the elected entity, is ultimately the school district "government" for any appeals. However, appealing does not get the person appealing another hearing in the district, and certainly not a higher level of hearing than they got in the first place. But for some reason, that seems to be happening a lot when students "appeal" to the school board. As Hamlet said, "There's the rub!" and the reason I am writing on this topic this month.
Appeals (and the differences between a Hearing and an Appeal):
If we assume that a student actually has a right to appeal a minor disciplinary determination to the school board, the question becomes what does that "appeal" look like? Answer: It looks like a conference: parent(s) or guardian (or other representative of the student), the teacher or principal who initiated the suspension, and typically the student sit down and talk with the board. The family has the opportunity to join the board in closed session [Iowa Code section 21.5 (1)(a) or (e)] and tell the board members why they disagree with the administration's decision. The administrator should be given a chance to tell the board his or her version of the events. The board may ask questions of the student, parent, or administrator. The board may even ask for additional information, which may lead to postponing the decision making until they receive the sought after information, or they may proceed to excuse the parents, student, and principal to deliberate.
The meeting is taped, but only because all closed sessions have to be taped. Typically no lawyers are present, but the district wouldn't always need its lawyer, especially if the administration is comfortable with their performance up to that point. The board's decision (to uphold the administrator's decision, reverse it, or modify it in some way) must be made in open session, as all board decisions must be. There is no obligation for written findings of fact and conclusions of law, as would be necessary in an expulsion hearing. There is no obligation to inform parents of the existence of another level of appeal (to the State Board of Education), but you can tell them if you wish. (There is a 30-day statute of limitations, so they need to mail their request for appeal to the Department of Education by the 30th day following the local board's decision. The letter must state what school board took what action, when, and why the parent or guardian disagrees with the decision. Their statements and signatures have to be notarized as the statute requires an "affidavit" to appeal.)
What this conference with the board is NOT is another hearing where the student has a new opportunity to present evidence, witnesses, etc. in an attempt to beat the rap. She has had her hearing already and is not entitled to another opportunity to try to get a different decision by a different decision maker. Rather, the purpose of an appeal is to correct (perceived) errors.
I believe what happens around the state is that whenever someone appeals to the school board, we go into "expulsion mode." Because we're now at the board level, we automatically call our school attorney, let the parent bring in a lawyer and witnesses and we rehash the whole incident. We hold another, more extensive hearing. Wrong!
Let's concentrate on keeping our appeals simple. Explain to the board (and perhaps have an information sheet for students appealing to the board) that the meeting will take place in closed session unless the parent or student, if 18, wants it in open session. Explain that they can bring their attorney or any representative, but this is not going to be a hearing; the student already had the hearing when the decision was made to impose whatever the penalty was. Explain that the reasons ("grounds") for appeal are limited. The only time "new evidence" would be considered is when they can convince the board that the administration ignored the student's evidence or witnesses at the first hearing; and even then, if the board is convinced that happened, they should direct the administrator to conduct the hearing properly. Ultimately, the appeal should be based on an alleged violation of a board policy or school rule. If that has been proven to the board's satisfaction, the board should step in to correct the situation. If not, the decision made by administration should stand.
Appeals are inappropriate times for the board to change a policy, although they may want to take the opportunity to clarify what the intent of the policy was or correct an administrator's misconception of it. In rare cases they can vote not to apply the policy in a given situation. But in the majority of cases, the board's job in an appeal or review of an administrative decision is to step in only if errors were made, not to substitute their judgment for that of the principal, A.D., or superintendent in the administration of board policy.
"Teacher Compensation: Still Center Stage, But..."
by Dr. Marcus Haack, SAI Associate Executive Director
By the time you read this the 2001 legislative session will be upon us. It still looks like teacher/educator compensation will be the major educational issue to be debated this year. However, in spite of all the attention this topic received during the interim between sessions, it may be extremely difficult for legislators and the governor's office to forge agreements on how to address the compensation issue.
On the positive side, there has been considerable work done toward the creation of a merged plan based on the work of the Marvin Pomerantz (Republican) group and the John Forsyth (Democratic) group. In November, legislative leaders from both parties met with the governor and staff, and Ted Stilwill to discuss a combined planning effort. Two areas of agreement emerged from that meeting.
First, there was an acknowledgement of progress that had already been made and agreement that new policy in Iowa should include four major elements:
1. Base pay levels that enable Iowa to be strategically positioned for education talent;
2. Variable pay that provides additional compensation if student performance improves significantly;
3. Continuing education that will directly support better teaching practices; and
4. Induction programs with mentors that will support new teachers.
The second area of agreement provides for developing additional levels of detail that could support the legislation needed to implement the above-mentioned concepts.
Unfortunately Iowa's early blast of wintry weather forced the cancellation of a meeting originally designed to include all legislators, the governor's staff, the Department of Education, professional associations and others to set the stage for legislative support of the merged plan. As of this writing no follow up meeting has been scheduled, so it appears the 2001 session will begin without the consensus that was being sought in November and December.
Adding to the uncertainty surrounding teacher compensation legislation are the questions regarding the state of Iowa's finances. Initial indications are that tax revenues will increase only moderately in the 2001-02 budget year, but not sufficiently to provide legislators with the money they feel they need to cover new "big-ticket" items. Compounding the problem is the desire of the Republican leadership to authorize additional tax cuts.
The state's Revenue Estimating Conference is anticipating a 4.4 percent growth in tax revenues for 2001-02. That lead Legislative Fiscal Bureau director Dennis Prouty to conclude that the state will be short of funds to pay for currently authorized programs and to add new proposals.
To stay on top of what's happening during the 2001 legislative session, make sure you sign up for the SAI legislative listserve. By doing so you will receive several updates per week via your e-mail regarding the education happenings at the Iowa Capitol. Sign up is easy. Just go to the SAI Web site (www.sai-iowa.org), click on Legislative News and follow the directions.
On the national front there are two items I'd like to bring to your attention. Now that we have a president-elect, we will need to monitor federal action on education. Mr. Bush and his advisors have targeted education as one of the first priorities they will address after the inauguration. However, if our read is right, the education platform will have strong voucher proposals. We've seen this coming for a long time. Now we'll have to be alert and do whatever we can to convince our congressional delegation that we simply can't afford a voucher plan that encroaches on public school support. More on this one later.
Also, Senator Tom Harkin's office contacted me to share the results of final budget agreements, which were reached in Congress in mid-December. They include additional federal funding for Iowa schools. Included in the package were: a hold harmless clause in Title I (meaning Iowa will keep $6,000,000 it was set to lose); an additional $4,000,000 for elementary technology connectivity grants under the Star Schools program; an additional $9,000,000 for school modernization grants; $1,800,000 for increasing the number of Iowa students taking Advanced Placement courses; $1,000,000 in loan forgiveness for teachers; and increase of $2,600,000 for class size reduction programs.
Administrator Support of School Improvement
by Dr. Elaine Smith-Bright, SAI Director of Professional Development
As studies continue to show the crucial role administrators play in improving student achievement, it is clear that they must be actively involved in improving teaching and learning. A report published by the Institute for Educational Leadership entitled, Leadership for Student Learning: Reinventing the Principalship stated that administrators must: know academic and pedagogical techniques; work with teachers to strengthen skills; collect, analyze and use data in ways that fuel excellence; rally students, teachers, parents, local health and social agencies, youth development groups, local businesses, and other community residents and partners around the common goal of raising student performance.
Among those demands one of the most troublesome for administrators is the one about using data to establish baselines, initiate change and track progress. Administrators have always collected data through the formal avenues of the ITBS or ITEDs, and they routinely share the results with staff. That is simply not sufficient in today's climate of accountability and comprehensive school improvement. Naturally there are many administrators who, for years, have used data to their advantage to guide their buildings and districts. However, most principals feel like the one who wrote to Dr. Developer in the October/November edition of "Tools for Schools" by the National Staff Development Council. He said, "I'm intrigued by everything I'm hearing about using data in schools. But frankly, I don't have a clue about where to begin and I'm a little embarrassed about trying to muddle through this with my staff without having more background. I know many other principals that feel the same way."
In SAI's ongoing effort to help you be informed and knowledgeable about processes for comprehensive school improvement and the part data play in those processes, we will once again be joining with Iowa ASCD (Iowa Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) to bring you three Winter Institutes. Specifically in the area of data, the agendas will include a two-hour session in the morning on "Using Data to Establish School Improvement Goals," with concentration on data analysis and district assessment planning. Then another two-hour session will be presented in the afternoon focusing on annual and long-range goal development with documentation of progress toward those goals. For those who are still struggling with consolidation of your CSIP, an "Early Bird Help Session" will be offered at each location.
Everyone wants you, the school administrator, to function as an instructional leader. I know, I know, they still want you to do all the managerial and supervisory work too, but the fact is when you do concentrate on learning - everyone wins! Teachers feel good because they know their students are learning and students feel good about themselves because they know they are learning. Data can help you prove to both teachers and students that they are operating in an environment of success rather than failure. Success is a great motivator for further success! Plus, when you share data of success with the community they feel good about the learning you're helping to foster. Even if the data are not "all positive," by tracking student's test scores and other indicators, you can help teachers focus their efforts where needed and show the community you are aware of students' learning needs. I've had the privilege of working with some excellent instructional "leader type" administrators. Our goal is to help all administrators develop those skills or continue to develop them.
Bring your team and be a role model for learning and active support of your building or district's school improvement plan and data-gathering efforts. The institutes are set for: Thurs., Feb. 1-Carroll; Tues., Feb. 6-Cedar Rapids; and Wed., Feb. 7-Ames. Registration forms went out December 19.
It's a call many school administrators dread. A reporter is
on the phone requesting information on a troublesome or sensitive
Responding to the phone call may not be the day's highlight. However, with a little preparation and knowing some "ground rules," even a potentially tough interview can be made easier.
"Getting a call from the news media does not have to be a frightening experience," said Diane Ostrowski, supervisor of community services at the Council Bluffs school district. Ostrowski said the reporter's job is to get the facts. The role of the school administrator or communications person working with reporters is to help them do their jobs.
"We look at working with the news media as an opportunity to share our district strengths," Ostrowski said. "Even in negative situations, we can tell the public how we are handling a situation."
Often the key to a successful interview is making sure the most appropriate spokesperson is responding to media calls. In some districts, a communications professional will assume that role. In most districts, the superintendent or another administrator should be designated.
"It's important to have a point person work with the news media," said Linda Kuster, director of communications for the Cedar Rapids school district. With a little practice, Kuster added, this person can successfully accommodate both the reporter's and the district's needs.
In nearly all cases, working with the news media is beneficial to your district. Schools are an important part of our communities. Successful media relations will contribute to your schools' overall communications efforts.
Most of your interviews with the news media will be easy. However, when the topic could be controversial, here are some suggestions to make the interview work for you and the reporter:
When a reporter calls
- Get the reporter's name, story subject and what information is needed from you.
- Be prepared. If you are not ready to answer questions, explain that you need to get more information or want to collect your thoughts. Find out when a reporter needs to be called back and return the call on time. One of the best ways to establish good relationships with reporters is to respect their deadlines.
- Return phone calls. A reporter usually will pursue a story even if you decline an interview.
- Choose two or three key points you most want to communicate. This will help you give a consistent, simple message easily understood by the reporter and the public.
When the questions are asked
- Use simple, everyday words in an interview because the public is unfamiliar with many educational terms.
- Be friendly, fair and factual. Don't be lulled into flippant or sarcastic comments. Don't bury a reporter in lots of facts and figures, but have them available.
- Don't go "off the record" with a reporter. If you don't want something printed or broadcast, don't say it.
- Avoid "no comment." It suggests you are trying to evade the question. Be more specific by saying, for example, "I don't have enough information at this time talk about it."
- Ask the reporter to rephrase a question if you do not understand it. If the question includes negative words or phrases, don't repeat them in the answer.
When the interview is over
- Be available to provide additional information to the reporter. Encourage the reporter to call you for clarification. Call the reporter yourself if you sense more clarification is needed.
- Don't expect or ask to see the story before it is printed or broadcast.
- Expect your comments to be shortened. That's why it's important to keep repeating your key points.