STRUCTURAL ISSUES AND OPTIONS King sits down at his kitchen table with a cup of coffee, a pen, a fresh yellow pad, and his laptop computer. He starts to review structural issues at Kennedy High. He recalls the “people-blaming” approach (Chapter 2), in which individuals are blamed for everything that goes wrong. He smiles and nods his head. That’s it! Everyone at Kennedy High School is blaming everyone else. He recalls the lesson of the structural frame: We blame individuals when the real problems are systemic.
So what structural problems does Kennedy High have? King thinks about the two cornerstones of structure: differentiation and integration. He sees immediately that Kennedy High School has an ample division of labor but weak overall coordination. He scribbles on his pad, trying to sketch the school’s organization chart. He realizes that the school has a matrix structure—teachers have an ill-de”ned dual reporting relationship to both department chairs and housemasters. He remembers the downside of the matrix structure: It’s built for con!ict (teachers wonder which authority they’re supposed to answer to, and administrators bicker about who’s in charge). The school has no integrating devices to link the approaches of housemasters like Chauncey Carver (who wants a coherent, effective program for his house) with those of department chairs like Betsy Dula (who is concerned about the schoolwide English curriculum and adherence to district guidelines). It’s not just personalities; the structure is pushing Carver and Dula toward each other’s throats. Goals, roles, and responsibilities are all vaguely de”ned. Nor is there a structural protocol (say, a task force or a standing committee) in place to diagnose and resolve such problems. If King had been in the job longer, he might have been able to rely more heavily on the authority of the principal’s of”ce. It helps that he’s been authorized by the superintendent to “x the school. But so far, he’s seen little evidence that the Kennedy High staff is endorsing his say-so with much enthusiasm.
King’s musings are making sense, but it isn’t clear what to do about the structural gaps. Is there any way to get the school back under control when it is teetering on the edge of irrational chaos? It doesn’t help that his authority is shaky. He is having trouble controlling
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the staff, and they are having the same problem with the students. The school is an underbounded system screaming for structure and boundaries.
King notes, ruefully, that he made things worse in the Friday meeting. “I knew how these people felt about one another,” he thinks. “Why did I push them to talk about something they were trying to avoid?We hadn’t done any homework. I didn’t give them a clear purpose for the conversation. I didn’t set any ground rules for how to talk about the issue. When it started to heat up, I just watched. Why didn’t I step in before it exploded?” He stops and shakes his head. “Live and learn, I guess. But I learned these lessons a long time ago—they served me well in my last school. In the confusion, I forgot that even good people can’t function very well without some structure. What did I do the last time around?”
King begins to brainstorm options. One possibility is responsibility charting: Bring people together to de”ne tasks and responsibilities. It has worked before. Would it work here? He reviews the language of responsibility charting, a technique for clarifying roles and relation- ships. The acronym CAIRO (Consulted, Approves, Informed, Responsible, and Omitted) helps him remember.Who’s responsible?Whohas to approve?Whoneeds to be consulted?Who should be informed? Who doesn’t need to be in the loop, and so can be omitted?
As he applies these questions to Kennedy High, the overlap between the housemasters and the department chairs is an obvious problem. Without a clear de”nition of roles and relationships, con!ict and confusion are inevitable. He wonders about a total overhaul of the structure: “Is the house system viable in its current form? If not, is it “xable? Maybe we need a process to look at the structure: What if I chaired a small task force to examine it and develop recommendations? I could put Dula and Carver on it—let them see “rsthand what’s causing their con!ict. Get them involved in working out a new design. Give each authority over speci”c areas. Develop some policies and procedures.”
It is clear from even a few minutes of re!ection that Kennedy High School has major structural problems that have to be addressed. But what to do about the immediate crisis between Dula and Carver? The structure helped create the problem in the “rst place, and “xing it might prevent dustups like this in the future. But Dula’s demand for an immediate apology didn’t sound like something a rational approach would easily “x. King is ready to try another angle. He turns to the human resource frame for counsel.
HUMAN RESOURCE ISSUES AND OPTIONS “Ironic,”Kingmuses. “The original idea behind the school was to respond better to students. Break down the big, bureaucratic high school. Make the house a community, a family even, where people know and care about each other. But it’s drifted off course. Everyone’s
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marooned on the bottom of Maslow’s needs hierarchy: No one even feels safe. Until they do, they’ll never focus on caring. The problem isn’t personalities. Everyone’s frustrated because no one is getting personal or professional needs met. Not me, not Carver, not Dula.We’re all so frustrated, we don’t realize everyone else is in the same boat.”
With the Dula–Carver mess staring him in the face, King shifts his thoughts from individual needs to interpersonal relationships. Tense relationships everywhere. People talking only to people who agree with them.Why? How to get a handle on it? He remembers reading, “Lurking in Model I is the core assumption that an organization is a dangerous place where you have to look out for yourself or someone else will do you in.”
“That’s us!” he says. “Too bad they don’t give a prize for the most Model I school in America. We’d win hands down. Everything here is win–lose. Nothing is discussed openly, and if it is, people just attack each other. If anything goes wrong, we blame other people and try to straighten them out. They get defensive, which proves we were right. But we never test our assumptions. We don’t ask questions. We just harbor suspicions and wait for people to prove us right. Then we hit them over the head. We’ve got to “nd better ways to deal with one another.
“How do you get better people management?” King wonders. “Successful organiza- tions start with a clear human resource philosophy. We don’t have one, but it might help. Invest in people? We’ve got good people. They’re paid pretty well. They’ve got job security. We’re probably okay there. Job enrichment? Jobs here are plenty challenging. Empowerment? That’s a big problem. Everyone claims to be powerless, yet they expect me to “x everything—the way they want it “xed. Is there something we could do to get people to own more of the problem? Convince them we’ve got to work together to make things better? The trouble is, if we go that way, people may not have the emotional intelligence or the group skills they’d need. Staff development? With all the con!ict, mediation skills might be a place to start.” Con!ict. Politics. Politics is normal in an organization. He knows it’s true. “But we don’t seem to have a midpoint between getting along and getting even.”
POLITICAL ISSUES AND OPTIONS King reluctantly shifts to a political lens. He knows it’s relevant, but he’s always hated political games. Still, he’s never seen a school with more intense political strife. His old school is beginning to seem tame by comparison; he tackled some things head-on there. Kennedy is a lot more volatile, with a history of explosions. Threats and coercion seem to be the power tactics of choice. But that’s not an option he’s comfortable with.
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Things might get even more vicious if he tackles the con!ict openly. He mulls over the basic elements of the political frame: enduring differences, scarce resources, con!ict, and power. “Bingo! We’ve got ’em all. We’ve got factions for and against the house concept. Housemasters want to run their houses and guard their turf. Department chairs want to run the faculty and expand their territory. One group wants to close the doors and bring in guards. Another wants open doors and no guards. We’ve got race issues simmering under the surface. No Latino administrators. This Carver–Dula thing could blow up the school. Black male says he’ll break white female’s neck. A recipe for disaster. We need some damage control.
“Then we’ve got all those outside folks looking over our shoulder. Parents worry about safety. The school board doesn’t trust us. They want higher test scores. The media are looking for a story. Accreditation is coming in the spring. Could we get people thinking about the enemies outside instead of inside? A common devil might pull people together— for a while anyway.
“Scarce resources? They’re getting scarcer. We lost 10 percent of our teachers—that got us into the !exible staf”ngmess. Housemasters and department chairs are “ghting over turf. Bill Smith wants my job. It’s a war zone. We need some kind of peace settlement. But who can lead the diplomatic effort? Almost no one is neutral. Eleanor Debbs would respond to the call. People respect her. But she’s not an administrator.”
King’s attention turns to the issue of power. “Power can be used to do people in. That’s what we’re doing right now. But you can also use power to get things done. That’s the constructive side of politics. Too bad no one here seems to have a clue about it. If I’m going to be a constructive politician, what can I do? First, I need an agenda.Without that, I’mdead in the water. Basically, I want everyone working in tandem to make the school better for kids. Most people could rally behind that. I also need a strategy. Networking—I need good relationships with key folks like Smith, Carver, and Dula. The interviews were a good place to start. I learned a lot about who wants what. The Friday meeting was a mistake, a collision of special interests with no common ground. It’s going to take some horse trading. We need a deal the housemasters and the department chairs can both buy into. And I need some allies—badly.”
He smiles as he remembers all the times he’s railed against analysis paralysis. But he feels he’s getting somewhere. He turns to a clean sheet on his pad. “Let’s lay this thing out,” he says to the quiet, empty kitchen. Across the top he labels three columns: allies, fence-sitters, and opponents. At the top left, he writes “High power.” At the bottom left, “Low power.” Over the next half-hour, he creates a political map of Kennedy High School, arranging individuals and groups in terms of their interests and their power. When he “nishes, he
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winces. Too many powerful opponents. Too few supportive allies. A bunch of fence-sitters waiting to choose sides. He begins to think about how to build a coalition and reshape the school’s political map.
“No doubt about it,” King says, “I have to get on top of the political mess. Otherwise they’ll carry me out the same way they did Weis. But it’s a little depressing. Where’s the ray of hope?” He smiles. He’s ready to think about symbols and culture. “Where’s Dr. King when I need him?” He recalls the famous words from 1963: “For even though we face the dif”culties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”What happened to Kennedy High’s dream?
He decides to take a break, get some fresh air. He takes stock of his surroundings. Moonlit night. Crowded sidewalks. Young and old, poor and af!uent, black, white, and Latino. Merchandise pours out of stores into sidewalk bins: clothes, toys, electronic gear, fruit, vegetables—you name it. It makes him feel better. King runs into some students from his old school. They’re at Kennedy now. “We’re tellin’ our friends we got a good principal now,” they say. He thanks them, hoping they’re right.