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by Faith Breen
(Professor, Management)

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 Washington Post, March 18, 2004

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.
1 The four managerial functions are planning, organizing, directing, and controlling.
2 According to the article, “On a statewide exam given to 10th graders last year, 77 percent of the white students
      reached Maryland standards for reading. Among blacks, the number was 34 percent.”
3 Traditionally there have been just black and white students. Recently, there has been an influx of Latinos, which
     is changing the racial dynamics. From a cultural perspective, there is also a difference in the locus of control.
4 McGregor identified two assumptions about human nature that resulted in two theories: Theory X, which is a
     set of negative assumptions about human nature that results in a manager taking a command and control
     approach to managerial leadership; and Theory Y, which is a set of positive assumptions about human nature
     that results in a manager taking a more supportive and facilitative approach to managerial leadership.
5 This is a traditional three-credit lecture course augmented by Blackboard.


The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 19, No. 3

Spring 2004