David King David King was born and raised in Great Ridge, Illinois. His father was one of the city’s “rst black principals. King knew the city and its school system well. After two years of military service, King followed in his father’s footsteps by going to Great Ridge State Teachers College, where he received B.Ed and M.Ed degrees. King taught English and coached in a predominantly black middle school for several years, until he was asked to become the school’s assistant principal. He had been in that post for “ve years when he was asked to take over a large middle school of 900 pupils—believed at the time to be the most “dif”cult” middle school in the city. While there, King gained a citywide reputation as a gifted and
400 Reframing Organizations
WEBC20 05/26/2017 2:42:5 Page 401
popular administrator. He was credited with changing the worst middle school in the system into one of the best. He had been very effective in building community support, recruiting new faculty, and raising academic standards. He was also credited with turning out basketball and baseball teams that had won state and county championships.
The Great Ridge superintendent made it clear that King had been selected for the Kennedy job over several more senior candidates because of his ability to handle tough situations. The superintendent also told him that he would need every bit of skill and luck he could muster. King knew of the formidable credentials of Jack Weis, his predecessor at Kennedy High. Weis, a white man, had been the superintendent of a small local township school system before becoming Kennedy’s “rst principal. He had written one book on the house system concept and another on inner-city education. Weis held a PhD from the University of Chicago and a divinity degree from Harvard. Yet despite his impressive background and ability, Weis had resigned in disillusionment. He was described by many as a “broken man.” King remembered seeing the physical change in Weis over that two-year period. Weis’s appearance had become progressively more fatigued and strained until he developed what appeared to be permanent dark rings under his eyes and a perpetual stoop. King remembered how he had pitied the man and wondered how Weis could “nd the job worth the obvious personal toll it was taking on him.
History of the School
The First Year The school’s troubles began to manifest themselves in its “rst year. Rumors of con!icts between the housemasters and the six subject-area department heads spread throughout the system by the middle of the year. The con!icts stemmed from differences in interpretations of curriculum policy on required learning and course content. In response, Weis had instituted a “free market” policy: subject-area department heads were supposed to convince housemasters which course to offer, and housemasters were supposed to convince department heads which teachers should be assigned to their houses. Many felt that this policy exacerbated the con!icts.
To add to the tension, a teacher was assaulted in her classroom in February of that “rst school year. The beating frightenedmany of the staff, particularly older teachers. A week later, eight teachers asked Weis to hire security guards. This request precipitated a debate in the faculty about thedesirability of guards in the school.One group felt that the guardswould instill a sense of safety and promote a better learning climate. The other faction felt that the presence of guards in the school would be repressive and would destroy the sense of community and
Bringing It All Together 401
WEBC20 05/26/2017 2:42:5 Page 402
trust that was developing.Weis refused the request for security guards because he believed they would symbolize everything the school was trying to change. In April, a second teacher was robbed and beaten in her classroom after school hours, and the debate was rekindled. This time, a groupof Latino parents threatened to boycott the school unless better securitymeasures were implemented. Again, Weis refused the request for security guards.
The Second Year The school’s second year was even more troubled than the “rst. Financial cutbacks ordered during the summer prevented Weis from replacing eight teachers who had resigned. As it was no longer possible for each house to staff all of its courses with its own faculty, Weis instituted a “!exible staf”ng” policy. Some teachers were asked to teach a course outside their assigned house, and students in the eleventh and twelfth grades were able to take elective and required courses in other houses. One of the housemasters, Chauncey Carver, publicly attacked the new policy as a step toward destroying the house system. In a letter to the Great Ridge Times, he accused the board of education of trying to subvert the house concept by cutting back funds.
The debate over the !exible staf”ng policy was heightened when two of the other housemasters joined a group of faculty and department heads in opposing Carver’s criticisms. This group argued that interhouse cross-registration should be encouraged, because the 15 to 18 teachers in each house could never offer the variety of courses that the schoolwide faculty of 65 to 70 could.
Further expansion of the !exible staf”ng policy was halted, however, because of dif”culties in scheduling fall classes. Errors cropped up in the master schedule developed during the preceding summer. Scheduling problems persisted until November, when the vice principal responsible for developing the schedule resigned. Burtram Perkins, a Kennedy housemaster who had formerly planned the schedule at Central High, assumed the function on top of his duties as housemaster. Scheduling took most of Perkins’s time until February.
Security again became an issue when three sophomores were assaulted because they refused to give up their lunchmoney during a shakedown. The assailants were believed to be outsiders. Several teachers approached Weis and asked him to request the board of education to provide security guards. Again Weis declined, but he asked Bill Smith, a vice principal at the school, to secure all doors except for the entrances to each of the four houses, the main entrance to the school, and the cafeteria. This move seemed to reduce the number of outsiders roaming through the school.
In May of the second year, a “ght in the cafeteria spread and resulted in considerable damage, including broken classroom windows and desks. The disturbance was severe
402 Reframing Organizations
WEBC20 05/26/2017 2:42:5 Page 403
enough for Weis to close the school. A number of teachers and students reported that outsiders were involved in the “ght and in damaging the classrooms. Several students were taken to the hospital for minor injuries, but all were released. A similar disturbance occurred two weeks later, and again the school was closed. Against Weis’s advice, the board of education ordered a temporary detail of municipal police to the school. In protest to the assignment of police, 30 of Kennedy’s 68 teachers staged a walkout, joined by over half the student body. The police detail was removed, and an agreement was worked out by an ad hoc subcommittee composed of board members and informal representatives of teachers who were for and against a police detail. The compromise called for the temporary stationing of a police cruiser near the school.
King’s First Week at Kennedy High King arrived at Kennedy High on Monday, July 15, and spent most of his “rst week individually interviewing key administrators (see box). On Friday, he held a meeting with all administrators and department heads. King’s purpose in these meetings was to familiarize himself with the school, its problems, and its key people.
ADMINISTRATIVE ORGANIZATION OF ROBERT F. KENNEDY HIGH SCHOOL
Principal: David King, 42 (black) B.Ed., M.Ed., Great Ridge State Teachers College
Vice principal: William Smith, 44 (black) B.Ed., Breakwater State College; M.Ed., Great Ridge State Teachers College
Vice principal: Vacant
Housemaster, A House: Burtram Perkins, 47 (black) B.S., M.Ed., University of Illinois
Housemaster, B House: Frank Czepak, 36 (white) B.S., University of Illinois; M.Ed., Great Ridge State Teachers College
Housemaster, CHouse: ChaunceyCarver, 32 (black) A.B.,WesleyanUniversity; B.F.A., Pratt Institute; M.A.T., Yale University
Housemaster, D House: John Bonavota, 26 (white) B.Ed., Great Ridge State Teachers College; M.Ed., Ohio State University
Assistant to the principal: Vacant
Assistant to the principal for community affairs: Vacant
Bringing It All Together 403
WEBC20 05/26/2017 2:42:5 Page 404
King’s “rst interview was with Bill Smith, a vice principal. Smith was black and had worked as a counselor and then vice principal of a middle school before coming to Kennedy. King knew Smith’s reputation as a tough disciplinarian who was very much disliked by many of the younger faculty and students. King had also heard from several teachers whose judgment he respected that Smith had been instrumental in keeping the school from “blowing apart” the preceding year. It became clear early in the interview that Smith felt that more stringent steps were needed to keep outsiders from wandering into the buildings. Smith urged King to consider locking all the school’s 30 doors except for the front entrance so that everyone would enter and leave through one set of doors. Smith also told him that many of the teachers and pupils were scared and that “no learning will ever begin to take place until we make it so people don’t have to be afraid anymore.” At the end of the interview, Smith said he had been approached by a nearby school system to become its director of counseling but that he had not yet made up his mind. He said he was committed enough to Kennedy High that he did not want to leave, but his decision depended on how hopeful he felt about the school’s future.
As King talked with others, he discovered that the “door question” was highly controversial within the faculty and that feelings ran high on both sides of the issue. Two housemasters in particular—Chauncey Carver, who was black, and Frank Czepak, who was white—were strongly against closing the house entrances. The two men felt such an action would symbolically reduce house “autonomy” and the feeling of distinctness that was a central aspect of the house concept.
Carver, master of CHouse, was particularly vehement on this issue and on his opposition to allowing students in one house to take classes in another house. Carver contended that the !exible staf”ng program had nearly destroyed the house concept. He threatened to resign if King intended to expand cross-house enrollment. Carver also complained about what he described as “interference” from department heads that undermined his teachers’ autonomy.
Carver appeared to be an outstanding housemaster, from everything King had heard about him—even from his many enemies. Carver had an abrasive personality but seemed to have the best-operating house in the school and was well liked by most of his teachers and pupils. His program appeared to be the most innovative, but it was also the one most frequently attacked by department heads for lacking substance and ignoring requirements in the system’s curriculum guide. Even with these criticisms, King imagined how much easier running the school would be if he had four housemasters like Chauncey Carver.
During his interviews with the other three housemasters, King discovered that they all felt infringed upon by the department heads, but only Carver and Czepak were strongly
404 Reframing Organizations