Policy Discussion: School Leadership Team

The recent descent into labels (union-basher vs. union-apologist) seems deeply counter-productive.  I personally would rather discuss specific policies, not people or entities. I don’t doubt that people on all sides of the issues have good intentions. So let’s look at some very specific policies in the DCTA agreement and perhaps we can exchange opinions and ideas on how they might be improved, or if they need improvement at all.

I’ll start with one (not the most controversial) that has always baffled me: the School Leadership Team (SLT). Here is the language from the DCTA contract:

5-4 School Leadership Team.

Each school will have a School Leadership Team (SLT) consisting of the principal, theassociation representative, a teacher appointed by the principal, and a minimum of 3 teacher representatives who should represent a cross section of the faculty including grade levels, specials, department chairs and special service providers. These (SLT) members are elected annually by a majority of the faculty voting by secret ballot. The SLT will seek to operate in an environment marked by mutual support and respect.

The SLT will make decisions by consensus. A consensus is either a unanimous decision or a majority decision that the entire SLT, including the dissenters, will support. If consensus cannot be reached, the matter shall be referred to theInstructional Superintendent who shall consult with the Association prior to making a decision. The SLT will meet regularly. […]

The decisions the SLT is in charge of extend (page 11 of the DCTA agreement) to school improvement, professional development, and instructional policies and practices. Major policies of a school are at the purview of a six-person committee, of which five members are usually teachers. Decision-making is required to be unanimous (I don’t see how a dissenter supporting a decision is different, although I admire the lingual construct).

At the heart, I think this structure essentially eliminates accountability from governance.  The principal, nominally in charge of the school, has 1/6 of the voting power. The vaulted appeal to other “stakeholders” does not include parents, external experts, community groups, etc.  Students have essentially no voice.

Second, all decisions are consensus and unanimous.  I believe in consensus when possible, but anyone involved in them knows difficult decisions are rarely unanimous.  Government, school boards, universities, non-profit organizations – I know of no other body that requires that decisions be supported by all elected members. Even ESOPs (employee-owned companies) have a decision-making hierarchy. This is a recipe for avoiding any controversy or hard choices.

The only other institutions I know with similar structures are essentially political in nature (the UN comes to mind).  Even these tend to make decision by majority vote, and dissension is regarded both as essential to the process, and not reason enough to derail action.  In addition, these institutions have little to no operating authority at the communal level – but a school is fundamentally an operating entity.  Even the UN, when it embarks on a peacekeeping mission, puts someone in charge.

So, is an SLT the best governance model by which to run a school?

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