Winter 1996, 7:30 a.m.
So, here I am, seething, trudging down East Jefferson, heading toward the Belle Isle Bridge, taking the first of many morning walks, designed to slake my anger and help me figure out what went wrong.
One minute I was the Executive Director of one of the most ambitious, organized and aggressive business/education partnerships in the history of the city, and the next minute my staff and I are out. The staff was mostly picked up by the local school district, while I and my administrators were given half a year’s salary and shown the door. Yes, it was called a re-organization. Yes, it was purported to be a way that the school system would continue to build, with help provided more closely at hand, and yes, the business community would still support the program with funds and jobs and such. Right.
It had been a near-perfect program with serious heartfelt commitments from each partner. Then, a perfect storm began to develop. The former Executive Director had done a great job of building an effective machine. I entered a program already running effectively. I was more representative of the community, to the chagrin of the business partners. Then, the highly-regarded school superintendent left abruptly, replaced by one who was not so highly regarded. Then, some of the most activist board members – those who were the conscience and fundraisers of the group – changed. The big funders- business and the state — began to question the success of the program and resent the money and resources provided for the program over the long term. Some of the developments occurred because opportunists were able to step into a fluctuating situation and manipulate them to whatever goal they were getting at.
There were many other events that ultimately led to this day of angry walking, but, as I said, it was a perfect storm. The program continues, unrecognizable from the flagship program it had been. I walked for many days, year long. My anger has gone from a high fire to an easily charged electric undercurrent.
Board Relationships: I was not new to working with a board, having been a head of two community college campuses and required to regularly report to the public board on my campus’ progress, but our president was the ultimate conduit with the board. At my new job, I didn’t build board relationships as closely as I should have. I didn’t know the process of pushing my agenda, and knowing where my votes were prior to board meetings.
Commitment to the Community: Despite the fact that there was a perfect storm of events leading to this “reorganization,” I personally felt that I had let the community down through my own lack of leadership in keeping the program running. At the end I sent an open letter to the community, touting the value of the program for the students, and predicting a critical mass of strong students as a result of the program. Most of my administrators tried to tell me that they shared in the program’s demise, and one even admitted to subversion, but I continued to believe that there was something else I could have done.
More Community Involvement:
Things might have been different if I had understood community involvement better. Hence, this class.