Elected politicians are programmed to fail when it comes to true leadership

True leaders, as I learned in the Army, have their number 2 prepped at all times to step up and take their place.

Elected politicians are terrified of anyone remotely qualified to take their place and will stop at nothing to disparage the “opposition” at every turn (see Clinton/Obama race if you need an example).

Herein we have a fundamental failure in our system: we’re failing to breed new leadership- and when in positions of power, politicians feel the need to constantly exert their power, often to the detriment of the people they are supposed to serve.

Which brings me to the current Dayton Public Schools Superintendent conundrum.

If Dr. Percy Mack was truly all that and a bag of chips, as the board clearly would have us believe right up to the point when he pulled up stakes for greener pastures (so he wouldn’t have to face another levy defeat)- his number 2, Debra Brathwaite, should have been well prepared to jump right in and continue on after Mack’s departure.

The School Board, made up of elected politicians, of course, have to flex their muscle and waste valuable time, money and risk losing Brathwaite to another district- meaning we’ll have lost our General and our Colonel in a short period of time. This doesn’t say bad things about Mack- it says our Board is made up of clueless folks who have no clue how to run a hot-dog cart, much less a multi-million dollar enterprise.

If Brathwaite wasn’t fit to step up 4 years ago, Mack should have been getting negative evaluations from the Board. If she wasn’t ready 2 years ago, Mack should have been fired. If she’s not ready today- well, the board should be fired and charged with criminal malfeasance.

The Dayton Daily News article makes it perfectly clear that Brathwaite understands the proper way to run a district, just by refusing to accept the “interim” title and “take one for the team” of fools who are running the district- Read on:

Board wants wide search for DPS top job
Dayton Superintendent Percy Macks top deputy wants to replace her boss but has told the school board she only wants the job on a permanent basis and will not accept the role of interim superintendent.

Debra Brathwaite, Daytons deputy superintendent since 2003, learned Thursday, May 29, she would not be offered the superintendency of Princeton schools near Cincinnati, adding to a list of near misses for desirable superintendent jobs that include Akron and Toledo.

With Macks plan to depart for Columbia, S.C., in July, Dayton school board members have expressed a strong preference to name an interim superintendent and conduct a national search for his replacement.

Brathwaite said she has declined an offer of the interim superintendent spot by board President Yvonne Isaacs.

“Ive been deputy for five years in Dayton,” she said. “I believe I have done some exemplary work. Interim is a temporary position. I have been very open with my desire to be a superintendent. The process in Princeton really validated my skills. I was up against two sitting superintendents. I think I did pretty well.”

Isaacs said she believes Brathwaite is the best choice for interim superintendent and would be a viable candidate for the permanent job, but now the board must consider its options.

“She made it very clear to me she was not interested in being interim superintendent,” Isaacs said. “I need to now have a conversation with the board. But I dont believe our position will change with regard to going the interim route and… doing a national search.”

Brathwaite said it is the boards prerogative to conduct a national search but that she believes she has earned the top job.

“When you are interim, it ties you to the position,” she said. “You are really put on hold and at the end of the day you dont know what happens. I believe I dont deserve that. I have really given all I have in Dayton.”

Word of Brathwaites possible rejection angered some of her allies within the district, prompting a letter signed by every elementary school principal in support of her candidacy for superintendent.

“By being just who she is: Brilliant, hardworking, earnest, fair and generous, she has earned our respect and undying loyalty,” the letter to the board states. “This letter is to let you know that we have utmost confidence in her and her ability to lead not only this district, but any district.”

I can assure you that every elementary school principal wouldn’t sign a letter of support for any member of the school board.

What we have here is a classic failure in our system of elected officials trying to manage hired professionals. The same problems happen with City Managers- look back to the Bill Estabrook fiasco in Dayton, where the winner of a “National Search” lasted about a year in the top spot.

With an impending levy to pass, bringing a new face on the scene is a lot of work. There is no doubt that Brathwaite will leave if passed over (rightfully). And, like it or not, National Searches can fail- if you need proof- look at how former DPS school chiefs Franklin Smith or James Williams have done in them- landing bigger, higher paying jobs after leaving this district in a mess.

If this search nonsense isn’t stopped pronto, and Brathwaite promoted immediately, it will be time for a search- one for people to replace the entire school board.

Your thoughts on this?

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14 Responses

  1. Mike Bock June 1, 2008 / 4:21 pm
    David, you feel that the Dayton School Board should immediately appoint Dr. Mack’s assistant , Debra Brahtwaite, to the vacated position of Superintendent of Dayton Schools. You hurl insult at Dayton school board members, and, I guess, you feel justified because you feel that the board’s decision to take time to carefully think through this important hiring decision is totally wrong and misguided. You write, “Debra Brathwaite, should have been well prepared to jump right in and continue on after Mack’s departure.”

    I’m wondering if we should consider the possibility that, in fact, Dr. Brahtwaite has been well prepared and is, in fact, ready to continue implementing all of the plans that Dr. Mack himself was committed to implementing. I’ve not followed Dr. Mack’s superintendency in much detail and therefore know nothing about what specific future actions Dr. Mack is recommending, but, the point is, maybe the board is using this opportunity to appoint a new superintendent to reassess their thinking about plans for the future; maybe they disagree with Dr. Mack’s plans and are contemplating the wisdom of making a fresh start with a new superintendent, someone who might bring a new vision and new ideas to Dayton Schools.

    You seem to be very impressed with the letter signed by principals that says of Brahtwaite, “By being just who she is: Brilliant, hardworking, earnest, fair and generous, she has earned our respect and undying loyalty … This letter is to let you know that we have utmost confidence in her and her ability to lead not only this district, but any district.”

    This is a very positive statement about Dr. Brahtwaite, but, I’m wondering if the letter might actually hurt Brahtwaite’s chances of being selected superintendent. Does a board of directors really want to hire a CEO that starts out so chummy with his or her immediate subordinates, that these subordinates have already pledged their “undying loyalty” ? What if it is the judgment of members on the board that the district would be better led by a fresh start where principals and superintendent will become reenergized by the challenge of a new and inspiring personality?

    You quote the DDN as saying about Brahtwaite, “ (Brahtwaite) told the school board she only wants the job on a permanent basis and will not accept the role of interim superintendent.”

    It sounds like she is playing hard ball, knowing that she will have her defenders in staking out what sounds to me an unreasonable and unprincipled stand. Evidently, board members have reservations about Dr. Brahtwaite and want to look at other candidates who might offer a leadership style or district ideas that differ with what Dr. Mack established and, evidently, Brahtwaite is prepared and committed to implementing. But I hardly think that playing hard ball with a potential board that you seek to lead is hardly a wise move, and, exemplifying a “take it or leave it” approach to negotiations exhibits a very poor leadership style that I would think would add to misgivings about Brahtwaite that the board evidently already has.

    Your headline uses an interesting phrase, “true leadership,” that deserves a lot of analysis and thought. My recent theory about everything centers on the importance of community. What a great title of a book, “It takes a village.” I should read the book, but the title by itself is instructive. My last post, http://daytonos.com/?p=2731, I wrote, “Democracy happens in community and the more authentic the community, the better the chance that democracy will be vigorous and will work to advance the common good.” My thought is that true leadership most effectively works in community as well — and, in fact, one key quality and sign of true leadership is the capacity and commitment of a leader to create community. An attitude of “take it or leave it,” or “my way or the highway” is quite opposite of the attitude a true leader should project. It would seem to me that Dr. Brahwaite should reconsider her refusal to consider an interim appointment.

    Finally, you compare the position of School Board Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent to the army position of general and colonel. This is a flawed analogy because a school system is quite different from the army and in school systems in top jobs there is much greater variation in leadership style, leadership procedures than in the top jobs in the military. And, in school systems the impact of either good or poor leadership is much greater than the impact of particularly good or poor leadership in the military. But even so, if we apply the military analogy to schools, when a general is reassigned, it hardly follows that his assistant will take his place — only if that assistant, according to army rules and procedures, actually deserves a promotion.

    You seem to feel that Dr.Brahwaite would be a great choice for superintendent. I’m sure you must of good reasons to think so highly of her. I really don’t know anything about Dr. Brahwaite or about the specifics of the Dayton situation. But I do know that hiring a superintendent is the most important decision, with the highest chance of impacting the district, that a board has the opportunity to make. You seem very impatient.

  2. David Esrati June 1, 2008 / 5:54 pm

    Mr. Bock,
    An organization that can’t promote from within, isn’t really an organization that can attract or keep talent.
    There is a lot to be said for knowing the inner workings of an organization- and knowing the players.
    It would take a new superintendent at least a year to get the lay of the land. In the mean time, what happens?
    Brathwaite isn’t playing hardball- she’s calling the question. Has the district been improving while she’s been number two- the general consensus has been yes.
    We need to focus on a levy- not on chasing an unknown superintendent.
    You are entitled to your opinions- but, frankly, you scare me.
    How qualified is our school board to evaluate and hire a superintendent? Are they top scholars, business leaders, management gurus? None of the above.
    The system is broken.

  3. Stan Hirtle June 1, 2008 / 10:54 pm
    First it’s annoying to have this post on the Dayton OS Blog and it’s not open for comments. I am very new to this blog intellectual property stuff but it seems to me if you want this published there you should take comments there, If you don’t want comments there and only want them here then don’t put it there, just put it here. I don’t know if that is your doing or someone else’s, as someone with their own blog raised that a few weeks ago. But there shouldn’t be any post that is not open to comments, in my opinion. And certainly don’t say “are there any thoughts on this” when you are not letting people post them.

    On the underlying issue itself, first of all in the Army the leader is going to get killed by the enemy and needs a successor ready to take over. Even so this successor will not necessarily continue in the long term, particularly at higher levels. In politics you are more likely to get killed from the inside so you don’t want a successor planned, if only so you don’t get undermined by your successor. (Watch Kurosawa’s great film “Ran”, Japanese word for disorder, on this subject. Think Mugabe wants a successor ready?)

    It is not clear that promoting an insider is necessarily always a great thing to do, particularly in a troubled organization. On the other hand the organization is troubled largely because of structural problems such as 1. a district filled with kids from overwhelming poverty, both economic and educational, and expected to do as well as districts where this is not true. 2. a funding crisis resulting from our unconstitutional reliance on property taxes which guarantees the opposition of people on fixed incomes who can’t afford to pay them. 3. Race and class divisions so that East Dayton, which is largely white, voted in extremely high numbers against the school levy which they correctly perceive serves mostly black children. 4. All the other bad and dysfunctional stuff that goes on within the administration of DPS, to which we pay more attention than similar stuff in say GM or the financial services industry because of 1, 2 and 3.

    Notice the recent DDN article on the need for a superleader (perhaps someone combining Obama’s inspirational qualities, Clinton’s savvy and Cheney’s ruthlessness, plus some ideal mix of demographic and educational qualities) to inspire Dayton to pass the school levy that is so direly needed to at least give the system a chance to improve and function. Since people see that an inspiring outsider may be needed to accomplish this challenging feat where an insider might not (perhaps reflecting a sense that an insider can’t possibly be inspiring enough, or perhaps a sense that insiders will be tied to defending the past and the status quo.) Or maybe the media likes a good story and a national search is a better story than promoting a local insider. I have no knowledge or opinion on whether Ms. Brathwaite is the best candidate or not.

    Like it or not, failing urban schools are mostly a national problem of race, class, poverty and investment, and so Dayton is hardly unique, except that it may have more concentrated poverty and segregation within the city and in the city as opposed to the suburbs than most places do. In any case, Dayton is in the career path for urban school administrators like UD and Wright State are in the career path of Basketball coaches. If you do well in a smaller place, you might get to come here and if you do a good job you will get to go to a larger, richer and better paying place. That is clearly the reality. Being at home can be in the mix, which in Mack’s case meant he was from the South and clearly wanted to go back there eventually. In any case in most places there is a relatively short life expectancy for any school superintendent, clearly much shorter than the problems he or she faces.

    Elected school boards may or may not be as bad as you describe, but they do seem to be mostly nice people who care about kids but may not know how to use a position as one of seven board members to make it happen. You also have some people with political party connections trying to advance their careers. The “kid’s first” group was an interesting exception of knowledgeable people who took advantage of a state building program needing a matching fund levy to run on a promise of building new neighborhood school buildings. Unfortunately the good will and optimism they generated did not come to fruition in an ideal neighborhood school system before an additional operating levy was needed, which seemed to generate more voter frustration.

    Anyway I don’t know that the board is being clueless or evil or self promoting if it tries to find who might be out the nationally before hiring an insider who is also looking for other jobs like everyone else is, coming close and if she finds one will be gone too. It might be that she would turn out to be the best candidate, either to sell a levy, to run the school system or both. Whoever the candidate is faces formidable structural problems, and we should not forget that educating Dayton’s children for a future of employment as productive citizens rather than menial work, unemployment or prison, probably requires a lot of structural changes that we should demand from leaders and communities outside of the City of Dayton. We should not count on being saved by a super superintendent.

  4. David Esrati June 2, 2008 / 5:52 am

    Mr. Hirtle,
    It’s even worse when there are two strings of comments on the same post, in two different places. This is my contribution to the community, and it’s very easy to read the feed from this site and comment here. I’m sorry you find it annoying, but, the content and discussion (and moderation of the comments)- are my responsibility, and not that of others. That’s why it’s closed on DaytonOS.
    According to what the system had us believing, Dr. Mack and Debra Brathwaite took the district out of the lowest scoring category, if only for a year or two. That was a significant achievement.
    Had they been better at handling their PR- the levy might have passed. Regardless of how you don’t like my analogies of the military or political systems in terms of ascendancy, the reality is, even if SuperSuperintendent exists, we can’t afford the time to find, lure, hire and then deal with the rebuilding process right now.
    We need a levy, we need to stay focused on delivering better scores and we need to give people in this organization a shot to rise to the top.
    How long would you work like a dog to get to the top, if you kept getting told it’ll never happen?
    We’ve hired multiple superintendents through this search process- only one has turned out. If past performance is any indication of future performance, I’d say it’s time for a change. Or are both you and Mr. Bock totally ignorant of the history of DPS?

  5. Mike Bock June 2, 2008 / 8:54 am
    David, according to the DDN, the president of the Dayton Board, Yvonne Isaacs, offered Brathwaite the job of superintendent and Brathwaite refused. Brathwaite is quoted as saying, “When you are interim, it ties you to the position. You are really put on hold and at the end of the day you don’t know what happens. I believe I don’t deserve that. I have really given all I have in Dayton.”

    It is interesting that Brathwaite frames the question so that it is all about her, what she “deserves.” In this comment reported in the DDN, Brathwaite projects a very bossy attitude, a huge sense of entitlement. It’s understandable that a board would not want to hire a CEO who would start out with such an attitude, and would have big misgivings about making a person with such attitude as the chief spokesperson for the district. Public relations is always a key function of a superintendent and in Dayton, because of the pressing need to pass a levy, the capacity of a superintendent to persuade and influence the public is a key qualification that any superintendent must possess. If this comment is indicative of the personality that Brathwaite would project in dealing with the press or the public, the board should probably look elsewhere for a better candidate.

    In her refusal to accept an interim appointment, Brathwaite is coming across as selfish, thinking only of herself. She is also coming across as unwise. If her goal is to acquire the position of superintendent of a big city school district, acquiring the position of interim superintendent in Dayton would be a great opportunity for her. It’s hard to understand why she would refuse this big promotion, this opportunity for her to prove herself. If she would work hard in an interim position and show accomplishment, it seems to me, her chances for landing a superintendent’s job, either here or elsewhere, would be much improved.

    Choosing a superintendent is a board’s most important decision. Brathwaite evidently does not have the board’s full confidence, or the board would simply offer the position outright. It is reasonable that the board might want to observe how Brathwaite might handle herself in an interim role, before committing to give her a multiyear contract. It seems to me that it is Brathwaite that is action unreasonably. David, your complete lack of confidence in the Dayton Board to handle itself competently is the central issue, and your complete lack of confidence, it seems to me, is causing you to take an unreasonable stand in this matter of how the board should make this key hiring decision. It seems to me that we need to have some faith in democracy and that a democratically chosen board of education should be given a chance to do its job.

  6. David Esrati June 2, 2008 / 10:25 am

    Years ago, Wright State had an amazing up and comer as the provost.They’d brought him down from Bowling Green- he was a doer, a hustler, well liked and respected, and had put his time in at WSU.
    He came to WSU because he knew the first president, Keggeris, was long in the tooth, and his time would come.
    When Keggeris announced he’d be leaving, Ferrari was one of three finalists for the job. He was honest and told the Board of Trustees that if he didn’t get the job, he would leave. They recoiled from the honesty, and instead “showed him” who was boss. They hired the first of several loser presidents from outside the university, and Mike Ferrari- the should have been WSU president, was hired by Drake in a heartbeat. Drake blossomed, with Ferrari pushing them to be one of the first universities advertising on MTV.
    Brathwaite turned down the INTERIM position, as she should. If she’s not capable after 5 years to step up here, she should have been fired. She will have another job within months, making more money, and not dealing with dolts like you, who are terrified of showing some balls and handing her the reins.
    If she fails, fire her. Showing a lack of faith in your staff is a mark of weakness in your organization and poor leadership.

  7. pizzabill June 2, 2008 / 12:10 pm
    Dear Sir:

    Running a hot dog cart is tougher than you imagine.

  8. Pam June 2, 2008 / 12:28 pm
    Mike, I disagree.

    What a slap, to be told by people who already know the quality of your work that you have to audition for the job. Or worse yet, to be asked to fill in temporarily until they find someone they like better to replace you.

    If I were Brathwaite, I’d tell the school board to go to hell, too. It takes a lot of nerve for them to ask her to help them out in a pinch while at the same time giving her a no confidence vote.

    The strategy of using the opportunity to prove herself won’t work. I’ve gotten every job I’ve ever applied for, except one—the one I wanted most. I spent 2 years trying to get it, bending over backwards, knocking myself out, doing whatever I could to impress the big decision maker. All the while, I had to watch people who were way less qualified and committed go through the revolving door. And guess what? That door hasn’t stopped spinning yet—and it never will.

    I should have told the idiot in charge to go screw himself on DAY ONE—and not wasted one minute of my time.

  9. Mike Bock June 2, 2008 / 1:59 pm
    David, It sounds like you may be making a poor analogy by comparing Ferrari of Wright State to Brathwaite of Dayton Public Schools. You say that when Ferrari was not promoted to president of the university, that he, “was hired by Drake in a heartbeat,” so it sounds like Ferrari was an outstanding candidate. On the other hand, because Brathwaite has already been rejected by other school districts, the last one the Princeton District, it seems reasonable to conclude that Brathwaite, by comparison to Ferrari, is a much weaker candidate. You indicate that Ferrari had the personal capacity to accomplish great things and that his leadership was proven at Drake, But in your strong advocacy of Brathwaite, I’ve not heard you make the case that Brathwaite has the personal capacity to be an effective leader in Dayton. You don’t seem to be trying to make the case that Brathwaite has personal capacity or great ideas; your argument is that she has put in her time, she in entitled, etc. and that finding a new leader will detract from passing a levy. And, the way it comes across to me, your main reason for strongly advocating Brathwaite, is that this hiring issue gives you a platform to trash and insult the members of the Dayton Board.

    You say that Ferrai was honest and told the Board of Trustees that if he didn’t get the job, he would leave. I haven’t heard that Brathwaite has declared her intention to leave if she doesn’t get her promotion, but with the attitude she is projecting, probably the Dayton Board would be wise to gently show her the door. She seems determined to leave the district anyway and her attitude of obstinacy may well turn into bitter disgruntlement. The district doesn’t need someone who refuses to be a team player in the key position of Deputy Superintendent.

    I have no earthly idea about what you are referring to when you indicate that not choosing Brathwaite is a sign of being “terrified to show some balls.” It sounds to me that the board may show more courage in this matter, in fact, by not buckling to the demands of the bureaucracy. Maybe the board would be showing not only courage, but some political savvy as well — by bringing new blood and new ideas to the district. Maybe it would be a move that would help pass new tax levies. Is it your opinion that the Dayton public is all that thrilled with Dr. Mack’s leadership? I don’t know. But overall, it is fair to say, based on the growth of charter schools for one thing, that there is a lot of public dissatisfaction with the Dayton schools. Maybe it is the board’s judgment that, in order to restore support to Dayton Schools, new leadership is needed.

    Since Brathwaite has rejected the offer to serve as interim superintendent, if I were a Dayton board member, I would ask Dr. Mack for his recommendation of several names of others in the district, with superintendent certificates, who should be considered for the interim job. And I would use this opportunity to hire a new superintendent to take time to think through a long term plan for the district.

  10. David Esrati June 2, 2008 / 3:18 pm

    Mr. Bock,
    She was Mack’s number 2. She held the position for 5 years. If she isn’t qualified, she shouldn’t have been number 2.
    Ferrari lost other positions- it was just Drake that put the right deal together.
    The difference there, was he was on the short list- 3 candidates, and wasn’t “interim.”
    Maybe we need a new board more than we need a new superintendent- ever think of that?

  11. Mike Bock June 2, 2008 / 3:33 pm
    She was established in this Deputy Superintendent position before some current members of the board were even elected, so it hardly seems fair that a board member who has had no say in the fact that she maintained this position should be obligated to OK her hiring. If it was established board policy that Braithwaite would be next hired, then new board members would probably defer to that policy, but as it is, there was no policy and and no promise from a previous board that encumbers the current board. You make a good point that “If she isn’t qualified, she shouldn’t have been number 2,” but such an organizational understanding is not how the board has operated in the past. It seems unfair to insist on new rules in the middle of the game. Dr. Mack himself did not hold the Deputy Supt position, when hired to be Dayton’s Supt, but, rather, came from another district.

    Wasn’t there just a Dayton Board of Education election? New boards are regularly made as new members are added. Let democracy work.

  12. David Esrati June 2, 2008 / 3:45 pm

    Obviously, Democracy is working just fine Mr. Bock. We have a president who invades countries that didn’t attack us, lied to us about weapons of mass destruction, etc- who hasn’t been impeached- and we have a school district that can’t pass a levy and a board that keeps cowering from putting one on the ballot.
    Mack was the exception in outside hires. That’s what you don’t seem to get.
    And who says that the people who’ve run for school board were all that great? They were what we were given as options. Had you put “none of the above” on the ballot, it would have changed everything.
    She’s right to say no to interim. And, I suggest you move to Dayton and run for School Board ASAP.

  13. Mike Bock June 2, 2008 / 11:13 pm
    David, you write, “She’s right to say no to interim.” I can’t conceive of a reasonable argument where you could possibly make a convincing case for such an assertion, at least, not if by “right” you mean that she did the right thing: the moral thing, the ethical thing. And, I don’t think you can make the case that by saying no to interim she advanced her career either, nor can you make the case that “she’s right” because, by her actions, she is standing up for all the passed over Deputy Superintendents everywhere or that in some other way her action somehow advances the public good.

    You might have better luck in making a case for your statement -“She’s right to say no to interim.” — if, by “she’s right,” you mean that she is justified to put herself and her career first, or, that she is justified to be uncooperative with the board.

    I would not expect you to defend your comment — “She’s right to say no to interim.” — as “your opinion,” and that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. I want to write a post entitled, “Why you are not entitled to your opinion.”

    And you write, “And who says that the people who’ve run for school board were all that great? They were what we were given as options. Had you put “none of the above” on the ballot, it would have changed everything.”

    And this gets to what I’ve been carping about in posts on DaytonOS http://daytonos.com/?p=584
    “Our Democracy Must Be Revived — If We Hope To Achieve The Dreams of Our Wisest and Best.” In an effective democracy, the best ideas and the best leaders emerge. As I said earlier in this exchange of comments, my latest theory of everything centers on the importance of community and so, the question is, how to create community? This link http://daytonos.com/?p=2731 leads to ideas about strengthening our democracy being discussed in Grassroots Dayton.

    I thought seriously about filing to run for the Kettering School Board this past primary, but couldn’t seem to muster the gumption to actually do so.

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