An open letter to new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison, from longtime CMS social workers Barry Sherman and Bevelyn Sherrill:
Welcome to Charlotte. We want to thank you in advance for the tremendous effort you will invest to establish Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools as the premier school district in the nation. We applaud your bold vision. But as you know, to reach that lofty goal you are going to need a lot of help.
Thats why weve written this letter.
Two aspects of your Superintendents Entry Plan will be crucial to our districts success. The first is a promise: For CMS to succeed completely requires not only public engagement but employees who are energized, engaged and feel valued I will work with the Board and staff to bolster employee morale. The second is a goal: To establish a respectful, positive district culture centered on teaching and learning.
We greatly appreciate your willingness to speak openly about an elephant that looms large within the CMS living room: Many CMS employees do not feel energized, engaged or valued.
Our prime concern is the extent to which fear and stress permeate our district. Its almost as if these two toxic workplace infiltrators have been deemed unavoidable and thus acceptable. The huge problem, of course, is that fear and stress cannot co-exist with vital workplace ingredients like passion, enthusiasm, creativity, trust and supportive compassion. If CMS employees are to feel energized, engaged and valued, then fear and stress have got to go.
We tell our students CMS is a bully-free zone. But, from the top down and across the district, adults often play by different rules: Principals demeaned by central office administrators; some principals berating excellent teachers into tears; honest employee mistakes met with hostile administrative responses; teachers blamed and told no excuses when a child experiencing a family crisis fails an EOG test. The result: Too many fine educators, both novice and veteran, deciding to leave their beloved profession or questioning how much longer they can endure the stressful madness.
While there are various ways to characterize the present CMS culture, wed like you to consider one overarching description we believe captures the essence of the problem: CMS is experiencing a pervasive crisis of heart. And this, Dr. Morrison, is a critical problem that must no longer be denied or dismissed as irrelevant to our ultimate goal of student achievement.
What has created this crisis?
Good or bad, right or wrong, the current state of American public education is increasingly focused on high stakes testing. This may change in the future, but for now its our national reality. CMS has no choice in this matter. However, we ask you to please remember that a national mandate of high stakes testing doesnt, in and of itself, mandate a stressful, heartless and disempowered culture in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
Classroom teachers bear the brunt of CMSs heart-deprived culture. The vast majority are well-trained and highly dedicated professionals who answered a deep inner calling to serve children and society. Yet, in what seems to be our ever-more-corporatized approach to education, instead of receiving honor and respect, teachers are increasingly treated like easily replaced cogs in a machine. The laudable goal of placing students interests first has led too many to forget that students are taught by human beings who also need caring, support and inspiration to thrive.
It doesnt have to be this way.
Under your guidance and modeling, a respectful culture of camaraderie could be co-created where passion and creative striving replace fear and stress, where enthusiastic teamwork replaces punitive blame, and where supportive compassion replaces hostility. Such a generative culture will inspire the best in each of us so that we, in turn, can draw forth the highest possible levels of student achievement.
In pursuit of this goal, we ask that you take three actions:
1) Ask publicly for all CMS employees to join you in a culture-shifting alliance that cultivates excellence through the collaboration of both hearts and minds;
2) Be a model of culture-shifting leadership by letting principals know that you will treat them with respect and continuously convey your gratitude for the heroic work they do each day; and
3) Inform principals that, along with high student achievement, you will hold them accountable for actively establishing a compassionate culture of mutual respect within their schools.
In the end, Dr. Morrison, as we run our race to the top, we will need strong minds and a lot of heart to reach the soaring goal you have set.