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Zero Tolerance in Memphis

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Zero-Tolerance in Memphis

The Memphis School District had a transformational change happen, when Superintendent Willie Herenton left his position to become the first black mayor of Memphis, the school district hired Dr. Gerry House, in 1992, from the outside because they felt that her experience in a school district that had already been restructured would lead Memphis school reform. It was noted in that case written by Ferrero (1998) that school board thought she could unite “progressive white and African-Americans, based upon an unassailable intellectual vision of high quality schooling” (p. 4).
There was escalating violence against staff in the Memphis School District. They adopted the National Gun-Free School Act into their Student Code of Conduct and later added battery of school personnel and drugs possession as a Zero-Tolerance offense. The teachers looked at the revised policy and as a tool to get what they considered as problem students out of their classroom so they could concentrate on teaching the students that wanted to learn. This caused a conflict between Superintendent Gerry house and the Memphis Teachers Association. Superintendent Gerry House put incremental changes in place with her “Basics Plus” plan that allowed the schools to choose one of eleven school improvement models by 1999. The School Boards adoption of Zero-Tolerance reversed a long tradition of keeping the children in school. The School District had a full range of special education programs designed to keep kids off the street. They had set up a Task Force on School Safety to promote safety in the schools and neighborhood.
The School District sent mixed message to the teachers by assigning Jim Paavola to enforce the policy. He had headed the school’s mental health program and his mission was to keep the kids off the streets. He felt the School District did not really mean Zero-Tolerance. Both Jim Paavola and Superintendent Gerry House wanted to keep the kids in school, felt that there were no bad kids, only kids that needed to learn differently.
When looking at the information in the case there seems to be a conflict in leadership. The Memphis School Board hired a new superintendent from the outside to reform what they thought was poor performance on test scores in their schools. They had lived through desegregation and believed in a therapeutic model of schooling, yet they hired who believed in the standards based school reform. The District also wanted to strictly enforce the Zero-Tolerance in the schools but left the interpretation of the policy up to Director of Pupil Service Jim Paavola, whose beliefs aligned with Superintendent Gerry House and her high standards for all kids. The School Board had implemented a Task Force on School Safety that was very similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Superintendent Gerry House worked with Jim Paavola on the “Seven Safety Needs”. The generation of the “Seven Safety Needs” was an example of good structural leadership. A good structural leader emphasizes rationality, analysis, logic, facts and data. They are likely to believe strongly in the importance of clear structure and well-developed management systems. According to Bolman and Deal (2008), A good leader is someone who thinks clearly, makes the right decisions, has good analytic skills, and can design structures and systems that get the job done (p. 359-360). In addition, the human resource orientation was in play here as well. The fact that Jim and Gerry generated this safety needs based on the premise of the importance of the people and their safety. The first is to assess the safety of each school and the second is to take a strong public stand and publicize specific initiatives taken to reduce violent incidents. Number three increases parental commitment and number four is training staff to foster a nonviolent climate in the schools. Number five is to help the students learn to deal with conflict in a nonviolent manner. The sixth need is to clarify and be consistent in enforcing the policy that deals with student behavior. The last is to encourage community awareness of school issues in a positive way. I also feel that the symbolic orientation comes in to play here. According to this orientation, a symbolic leader believes that the essential task of management is to provide vision and inspiration. They rely on personal charisma and a flair for drama to get people excited and committed to the organizational mission. A good leader is a prophet and visionary, who uses symbols, tells stories and frames experience in ways that give people hope and meaning (Bolman, 2008). The school system has a direction that they were all striving to achieve. It may seem like two goals, reducing violence and increasing test scores. They went hand in hand, by making the schools safer the students would feel safer and could concentrate their attention on learning.
Based upon the information presented in this case, it appeared that the Memphis School District and East High School fit the political orientation as described by Bolman and Deal in Reframing Organizations, the central task of management is to mobilize the resources needed to advocate and fight for the unit's or the organization's goals and objectives. Political leaders emphasize the importance of building a power base: allies, networks, coalitions. A good leader is an advocate and negotiator who understands politics and is comfortable with conflict. The description of the District and Schools would leave one to believe that it was organized with strict rules and regulations, rigid and centrally structured, all promotions came from within the Memphis School District, the include former Superintendent Willie Herenton, the tendency was to resist change, and they were internally focused (especially the teachers). In other classes I have taken throughout my educational career, I feel another theory that could be applied here is Max Weber’s Theory on Bureaucracy. Max Weber was a German sociologist, proposed different characteristics found in effective bureaucracies that would effectively conduct decision-making, control resources, protect workers and accomplish organizational goals. Max Weber's model of Bureaucracy is oftentimes described through a simple set of characteristics, which could be described in this case. Max Weber viewed these bureaucratic elements as solutions to problems or defects within earlier and more traditional administrative systems. Likewise, he viewed these elements as parts of a total system, which, combined and instituted effectively, would increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the administrative structure.
The bureaucratic structure would to a greater extent protect employees from arbitrary rulings from leaders, and would potentially give a greater sense of security to the employees.
Additionally, the bureaucratic structure would create an opportunity for employees to become specialists within one specific area, which would increase the effectiveness and efficiency in each area of the organization. When rules for performance are relatively stable, employees would have a greater possibility to act creatively within the realm of their respective duties and sub-tasks, and to find creative ways to accomplish rather stable goals and targets. Some of the elements of Weber’s bureaucracy include highly routine operating tasks, formalized rules and regulations, centralized authority, and decision-making that follows a chain-of-command. Control lies at the heart of virtually every element of this model. However, the School District has attempted to break away from this model by reaching outside of the organization and selecting a new Superintendent from outside of the state with a different leadership style and with seemingly new and innovative programs to manage the school system.
The new Superintendent, Gerry House, has attempted to implement a program that may not “fit” within the current structure of the organization. Although she has made efforts at decentralization, Gerry House may not have considered critical elements of organizational design and structure. The District and East Falls School fits within what Max Weber calls the “closed systems” theory of organizational theory as it falls in line with the “defender” model and Weber’s theory on bureaucracy. Her leadership style and new programs seem to be externally focused as she has emphasized programs to benefit the students and their education to improve their quality of life, which falls more in line with “open systems” thinking. The lack Political orientation is present in when Gerry House did not take this factor into account when attempting to implement her program to create “high standards for all kids.” Teachers within this school system had suffered over the years from acts of violence perpetrated by those same kids she wants to provide for in terms of a higher quality of life. This may have caused the teachers to become internally focused and more concerned with establishing control consistent with a rigid structure where strict enforcement of rules and regulations prevail. House should consider reorganizing District and School to better fit her plans for reform. If her ideals are consistent with “open systems” thinking, then political and structural leadership should be made to accommodate this same thought to eliminate conflict in the accomplishment of goals.
The solution to the conflict in leadership could be done by utilizing four of the leadership orientations that were used in our class. The Memphis School Board made a mistake by letting Superintendent Gerry House and Jim Paavola interpret the policies. They were using a Democratic Style of Leadership when they let them enforce the policies. Their mission was not in line with the Districts mission. The District wanted a strict enforcement of the Zero-Tolerance Policy where student could and would be expelled for violating the policies. Superintendent Gerry House and Jim Paavola felt that kids should be in school and not on the street so they enforced the policy as they saw fit. They used a graduated punishment system because they did not really think that the School District really wanted to put the kids out on the street for one infraction. If the District would have used a Political Style, Superintendent Gerry House and Jim Paavola would have had no choice but to strictly follow the policies. The District should have stepped up and expressed their desires to have the Zero-Tolerance enforced, not just let Superintendent House and Jim Paavola choose how they wanted to enforce the policy because they were the in-house leaders that the teachers and students looked to for guidance.
Going back to Max Weber, the School District would have benefited from his characteristic of “Legal-Rational Administration”. This is a form of Bureaucracy states that in Superintendent Gerry House’s position as the superintendent it is strictly defined by impersonal rules. The School District had its zero-tolerance policy but it was not strictly followed by either Superintendent Gerry House or Jim Paavola. Max Weber’s Bureaucracy also states in the “Specialized Division of Labor” have the work divided with clearly defined duties and the workers are delegated authority to make decisions in their own area of specialization. This is where one of the con’s to Max Weber’s Bureaucracy comes into play. The impersonal rules of bureaucracy fail to recognize the “human side” of organized processes. Superintendent Gerry House and Jim Paavola put their feelings and beliefs into the policy enforcement and came into conflict with the School Boards directives. The teachers used their own interpretation of the policy to kick problem students out of the classroom. The school system problems are so interrelated that a small change in one policy produced instant changes in the other parts of the organization. Superintendent Gerry House had a plans and a time frame to implement her plans. She felt she needed to challenge the teachers to find ways to help the students succeed.
Superintendent Gerry House plan was to draw students into the schools not kick them out. When the Zero-tolerance was added to the code of conduct the teachers used it as a way to get rid of the problem students. There is also maintenance needs to be considered. The organization has changed, but the zero-tolerance policy was causing friction.
The solution I support would be for the Memphis School board to take a step back and look at their leadership orientations. Analyzing where they fall on the scale would have changed the responses and effect of their decisions. The Memphis School Board could have stopped all the conflict by strictly enforcing the all their policies, not just the Zero-Tolerance. The main orientation that would come into play in this case is the human resources orientation. As mentioned earlier, the human resources orientation emphasizes the importance of people. They endorse the view that the central task of management is to develop a good fit between people and organizations. They believe in the importance of coaching, participation, motivation, teamwork and good interpersonal relations. A good leader is a facilitator and participative manager who supports and empowers others. (Bolman, 2008)

Bolman, L., Deal, T. (2008). Reframing Organizations (4th Ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley and Sons Inc.
Ferreo, D. (1998). Zero Tolerance in Memphis (A), 1, 1-19.…...

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