Saturday, April 5, 2014

Years 23 to 34: Education Specialist for Spokane Public Schools: Micro-managing and Muppet Meeting Mondays Make Me Move On!

When I first got hired as an education specialist for Spokane Public Schools, there were ten of us who worked with the special education teachers in the thirty five elementary schools, six middle schools, and five high schools. We also had five area coordinators and a special education director and assistant director. The ten of us worked collaboratively, but had the autonomy to work on our own with the trust of our superiors that we not only knew what we were doing, but could do it well and probably better with less interference. This didn't mean that we were out there randomly doing whatever we wanted; we always checked with our coordinators, frequently met with them, and did things for them when they had other duties. It was a very efficient system and I loved my job.

Then early in 2010, things changed. Our special ed director retired, and the person put in charge had no background in special education. In fact, I'd heard her on more than one occasion express her disdain for special education and how it was run. She vowed to "clean it up". In her mind, there did not need to be a lot of support staff helping the teachers in the field. Indeed, as the ed specialists retired, none were replaced. By this time, we were down to two ed specialists for the elementary programs and just two for the secondary. Only two elementary coordinators remained as well, and anything, and I mean ANYTHING you wanted to send out in an email, propose for professional development, etc., had to be approved with the director first.
One day in the spring of 2010, Susan B., the coordinator I worked for, asked me to send out a group email to the preschool teachers. I did, and then boy, did I hear about it! The director emailed me and told me that I was not to email this group again. I tried to explain that my immediate boss had asked me to do it. She said that she didn't care who asked me to do it, I wouldn't be doing it again! Suddenly going to work was not as much fun. Slowly my responsibilities with the preschool group disappeared altogether. Now another person was put in charge of that group; a person with NO early childhood background. Should I have been surprised?

I dreaded returning to work in the fall of 2010. No longer working with preschool programs, I now worked mostly with the elementary self-contained rooms. I liked working with these teachers! They had been without support after Joanie S. and Cindy V. retired. They appreciated everything you did for them. But then there were the meetings! As things got underway, the new leadership decided to have meetings with all support staff every other Monday. I dreaded these meetings mostly because the director, being the supreme micro-manager, loved to tell us all what we were doing wrong. I began to refer to these meetings as Muppet Meeting Mondays. Here is a post from my Facebook page that fall: "Tomorrow is Muppet Meeting Monday. We have to do this two times a month.Not looking forward to it. Just so you know, I will be playing the part of Oscar the Grouch. The parts of Miss Piggy and Scooter are permanently taken. Any of you that will be going want to claim a character?"

By the middle of October, I was resigned to having a horrible year, but then it got worse. Dave, one of the assistant special ed directors, asked me to send out a group email about the new IEP's we were doing and how to write good present levels, etc. I thought, surely if Dave asks me to do this, I don't have to check with the director. Wrong! This time the director sent me an email saying I had to meet with her. I was shocked. I started archiving her emails to me. Her tone was very threatening. I called the Spokane Education Association and asked for a representative to come with me to the meeting. The president herself decided to join me. At the meeting the SEA president asked about my background, what I had been doing during my years in Spokane, and what the problem was as I saw it. I talked about my long career in special education, my twenty-two years as a classroom teacher, and my support to both preschool and other elementary special education programs over the past twelve years. The president listened and then said to the director, "It seems like Kathy has a lot of knowledge about special education and programs. Why wouldn't you listen to her suggestions and allow her to make some decisions on her own?" And this was the director's response, "Because I don't have to."

And that was that. Two weeks later I was told I would no longer be just an ed specialist, but that half of my time would be as a behavior intervention specialist. Don't get me wrong. I had learned a lot about behavior over the years, and the behavior intervention specialists I got to hang out with were the best, but I had not pursued this kind of a job. I had signed on to be an ed specialist. Can you say "retaliation"? 

I made it through the year, but it was a hard one. Thank goodness the people I worked with on a daily basis were great. Teachers, therapists, other specialists; you couldn't ask for a better bunch. But at the end of the year, I knew I needed to make a choice. Thanks to a good friend, I found out that a similar position was opening up in Central Valley. So I decided to apply.

When I got the job in CV, Susan B. decided to throw a little going away party for me. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to wish me well. It was such a gift to me. I only hope that everyone I worked with over the years in Spokane felt I gave something back to them.