Letter to the Williamson County School Board

Below is a letter I sent to the school board of Williamson County Schools in Franklin, TN.

WCS School Board Members,

I’ve put this off for too long and I’m wrong for having done so. I’d like to share some thoughts with you from the perspective of a WCS teacher. Hopefully today’s volatility won’t be too much of a distraction to receive my input.

I’m not writing to endorse Dr. Looney or to request that you extend his contract; however, I would like to briefly address his tenure. Dr. Looney and I are only acquaintances at most; but I’m thankful to have served on committees or district level teams that he has been an active part of. I’ve also observed his participation and/or oversight of several board meetings and community meetings. In short, I’ve seen Dr. Looney share new ideas, respond to new ideas, share difficult news and information, engage in light banter, respond to awkwardness and hostility, and brainstorm. As a WCS teacher, I’ve been affected by decisions he has made and the culture he has established.

I do not agree with every decision Dr. Looney has made nor the way he has delivered every sentence I’ve heard him deliver. If he were aware of every decision of mine and of every sentence I’ve delivered, he would likely feel the same about me. However, overwhelmingly, Dr. Looney has provided world-class leadership. He is a visionary. That can be very frustrating to those of us who are more pragmatic; but most great senior executives are vision casters. It’s worth noting as well that he has a solid understanding of top-notch instructional leadership. He understands the craft of teaching and is aware of best practices. The ability to both provide organizational leadership and display a solid understanding of an organization’s craft is a coveted skill set. He is amazingly comfortable with a wide spectrum of stakeholders and most importantly, I have only ever seen him operate with integrity and a willingness to recognize shortcomings.

In short, it is highly unlikely that WCS could replace him with a comparable leader. However, I’m not at all concerned about the possibility of him leaving, especially to MNPS. I have for years expressed a belief that WCS should have at the center of its mission to engage in the kinds of innovative practices we have the luxury of tackling given our unparalleled student quality and parent engagement in order to assist, reinforce, and support districts in much less favorable circumstances. None of us have operated under the illusion that Dr. Looney would stick with WCS for the remainder of his career. What better place for him to put to work the world-class skill set we’ve helped him develop than in a city the entire world is watching right now?

Rather, my concern with the possibility of Dr. Looney leaving is about timing, and that leads me to my second point. Over the past year, the goings on of the WCS School Board have been embarrassing to put it mildly. However, I want to say very clearly that there has been no tragic occurrence or loss for which the Board is to blame, thankfully. The catastrophic and unquantifiable downfall has been in the form of opportunity cost. Amid the debacle of the past year, the district has missed out on an unknown number of opportunities.

WCS is not a district in crisis, in need of a major overhaul, or in need of outside intervention because of a failure to meet the needs of students. Districts around the state and around the entire nation look to Williamson County Schools for leadership on a variety of topics. A Williamson County School Board has the opportunity therefore to be forward-thinking and innovative. It has the opportunity to identify new avenues for success in a sector very much in need of real-world leadership: public education. Consider the enormously prosperous area in which we operate. Consider the innovative work taking place in entertainment, healthcare, technology, and finance. Now consider the wealth of human capital in our talented staff. While diversity is not necessarily at the top of the things for which we’re known, consider the handful of schools in our district with less than glowing data. Those are not threats; they’re opportunities to utilize our resources in settings that are a little bit more akin to the rest of the nation. And let’s not miss the fact that even some of our lower performing schools are more successful than similar schools in other districts.

One more year of missed opportunities would be too great, even with Dr. Looney at the helm to counteract the Board’s inaction. Losing him and continuing the current course would cost our students dearly in terms of innovation and forward thinking. While your prescribed duty is to WCS and specifically to your district, you have been given a much larger opportunity. You have been given the opportunity to make strategic decisions for one of the most successful organizations in our field. Imagine being on the board of Google, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Disney, or Amazon. Because we don’t exist in a competitive marketplace, our missed opportunities have an almost invisible cost. But you have to begin to operate as if you are on the board of one of the most successful organizations in world…because you are. Your decisions will impact not only thousands of students in WCS, but millions under the leadership of teachers and administrators influenced by the work we do.

Although very aware of our warts and shortcomings, I am incredibly proud to serve our profession in Williamson County Schools. I’m sure you are as well. Please recognize the mantle you’ve been given and respond accordingly.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Jeff

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