by Faith Breen
The embattled African American principal of Annapolis High School was removed from her post yesterday after months of emotional debate that pitted middle-class white parents against black community leaders.
Deborah Hall Williams, appointed less than a
year ago to address the school’s academic and disciplinary problems, was
reassigned to an administrative job by Anne Arundel County Superintendent of
Schools Eric J. Smith. Despite Williams’s “heroic” efforts, Smith said, a
consultant’s study had convinced him that she had not done enough to ensure the
safety of her students or gain the support of staff and parents . . . .[to
bring about a quick change she
had] instituted detention, required students to wear see-through backpacks so
they couldn’t be used to conceal weapons, and warned them that they would be
punished if they were late to class or dressed inappropriately . . .
.[unfortunately the number of disciplinary actions increased and] several
teachers threatened to leave the school if Williams wasn’t fired . . .
The week of March 15, I showed a new video titled Leading by Design. This seemed like an excellent way to introduce the third managerial function–directing.1 Although the movie’s concepts were on target, because the context was a school setting, my Management 160 students were less than engaged. Since I incorporate Blackboard into all of my traditional face-to-face classes, I am free to pursue class readings and discussions beyond the classroom setting. So, while looking for a situation they could more easily identify, I found the article cited above, and placed it into the Blackboard Discussion area.
In this instance, a former principal from Prince George’s County, handpicked by the Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Schools to help close the “huge academic achievement gap between black and white students in Anne Arundel County,” was essentially fired.2 It provided an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that management theory is applicable independent of the context!
Since my class is predominately African American, I was interested in seeing their reaction to this managerial situation. Using the Socratic Method, I first asked my students to describe the management challenge. Drawing upon their own educational experiences and much to my chagrin, several students quickly identified with the Annapolis students’ being in the halls instead of class, of weapons and student attacks–the reality of our public high school students.
Pressing, I asked them if Principal Williams’ leadership approach was appropriate. Some of the students said “YES!” Several students supported her approach because they felt that this was the only way that the students would do what they had to do. One student added: “We’re used to being told what to do and that is what it takes!” But then, another student – a former Government employee, married to a lawyer, and who has three children in private schools–countered: “This is a socio-economic class issue, not all students have to be told what to do.” “Yeah,” responded another, "…the white kids have to be babied!” The lone white student quickly responded, “Not me, I have not been babied! I don’t know where you got that from . . . ." We had a very lively discussion, and I was able to bring a partial resolution by summarizing the Annapolis High situation as being very complex and the result of differences in managerial styles, socio-economic class, racial tension, and cultural differences.3
Next week, I will
introduce my students to managerial approaches to motivation, beginning with
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and including McGregor’s approach to
motivation–Theory X and Theory Y.4 This introduction will provide the
students with additional tools for analyzing what occurred. Using Blackboard’s
Discussion Board, they will again have an opportunity to reflect upon their
assumptions, clarify which type of manager they think Principal Williams is, and
share lessons learned. Hopefully, they will get much more insight because raw
comments such as: “She was set up. They gave her a hopeless situation”; “They
should have given her more time”; and “[Superintendent] Smith is the one who
should be fired, not her!” still echo through our halls.
The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 19, No. 3