Current Administration Model Makes Teaching in Pasco County a Slog Through Horseshit
Anyone who has read any one of my numerous posts concerning Pasco County schools will conclude that I am no fan of the way Pasco’s schools are run. I’ve highlighted a lot of different problems Pasco teachers face in their workdays and careers, and have addressed some specific issues that serve as anecdotal examples of Kurt Browning and Co.’s approach to administering the district.
I have never presented the very nature of Browning’s management style as the single greatest source of discord in the district.
Well, here we go.
We’re midway through Browning’s second term as the Grand Poobah of Pasco and we’ve all had a chance to get a good feel for how he and his crew like to run things.
Calling the practical application of Browning’s administrative philosophy top-down is like calling an axe murder a bullying incident, but it points us in the right direction. I mean, Kim Jong-un’s style is top-down too, correct? The levels of severity and absurdity are vastly dissimilar, but the style is generally the same. A momentary muse convinces me that the close resemblance between the Kim and Browning management styles is probably how Bubba came to earn the Grand Poobah moniker.
Pardon my digression.
Most Pasco teachers who have been with the district for longer than say, three days, probably agree that the district functions largely by sudden dictate. That majority becomes even more pronounced among the subset of teachers whose last gig wasn’t Chili’s or Taco Bell.
District policy decisions and newly minted requirements come down in a frequent and predictable manner. First we get an Action Required memo from one of the directors or supervisors. Then each successively lower level of supervision resends that same memo to the levels still lower down the chain, until the teachers at the very bottom of this desperate exercise in futility (public education) get it three or four times. Now that’s the way to make something really sink in.
We all understand that any organization, large or small, needs to be managed. Decisions must be made. Unpopular policies are inevitable. That doesn’t mean that those realities should become the very foundation for an unnecessarily centralized, sweepingly autocratic corps of minions marching to the egotistical melody of a self-absorbed politician.
If you’ve been around Pasco County Schools for six or more years, then you remember Kurt Browning the candidate.
What a different man he was.
Browning won his first race handily after campaigning in part on lifting the morale of district employees, who had endured eight long years under the pugilistic Heather Fiorentino, and hadn’t seen a raise for six of those years. Browning capitalized on the contentious relationship Fiorentino had with employees by repeatedly promising to make them an integral element in the district’s decision-making processes. The scarf-fixated Fiorentino licked her wounds and hobbled to the house after eight years of controversial tenure.
The very first thing good ol’ Kurt Browning did after “gettin’ elected” was to host twin “meetings with employees,” on either side of the county. He also did several YouTube segments to promote his vision for transforming Pasco County Schools into a “world class” enterprise.
A core element in his formula to rejuvenate the district was to take advantage of the collective expertise of teachers to drive innovation. He was going to (Remember this?) invert the pyramid.
“You don’t work for the district,” he declared. “The district works for you.”
“You’re up here,” he said, holding his hands high above his head. “We’re down here,” he continued, holding his hands at waist level, palms up, “To support you.”
It all sounded so great. We all expected a glorious renaissance in the district, fueled by avid collaboration between teachers, their administrators, and district staff, all a product of teachers once again being valued by the district.
Well, unfortunately, and to the great disappointment of district employees, it was all total and utter horseshit.
After harping about teachers and staff operating in silos and pitching his forward-looking recipe for rebirth centered around mutual respect and creative cooperation, he promptly built himself the mother of all silos and deployed a phalanx around it to discourage intrusion by us commoners. Then he told us all to buzz off if we didn’t like it.
The Grand Poobah was born.
In the last few years we have actually witnessed the exacerbation of centralized authority, not the alleviation of it.
We have witnessed departments become miniature fiefdoms, operating within their respective jurisdictions with near impunity, all but immune to any meaningful restrictions in creating organizational havoc.
We have watched several controversies erupt as the result of a district administration that is wholly disconnected from its employees or the communities it is supposed to serve.
We have seen Browning and Co. forced to backtrack or qualify after making rash decisions with zero-to-negligible input originating below the fabled third floor of the main building.
We have become familiar with Browning’s affinity for window dressing. We saw him decree that offices aren’t of, they’re for.We saw him shuffle assistant superintendents and directors around and rename departments and offices, and then change some of that back.
And then that Guest Teacher thing. Bubba raised the idea several years ago, but everyone kind of chuckled at him and moved on. It seems our superintendent just can’t let a brilliant idea go. So we have finally conferred noble status upon that downtrodden caste of classroom stand-ins.
We have learned to recognize a world class crock of horseshit when we see one.
And onward we slog, right through it.
Just like before. Just like always.
Wow. That was almost therapeutic. It’s great to be back.