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Transfers for the New Year

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One of the nastiest words in education is “transfer.” The impact of the word in education circles can be felt all the way to the core of any school. Since transfers are often punitive, sometimes rewarding, and barely non-judgmental, people become freaked-out when transfers start happening in order to prepare for the next school year.

Transfers often start being thrown around at Christmas time, when administrators begin putting together their wish lists for the next year. The best way I can put it is that it’s like playing Monopoly. “I’ll give you Mr. X if you take Ms. Y & Mrs. Z.” I know; it sounds awful, but it’s often this way in districts. I previously blogged about what or how to do it in one-building districts so that you’re getting what your kids need in order to be successful. 

The biggest fear associated with transfers is dealing with the person who is not volunteering to do it. That person is often afraid of embarrassment, exposure, or being cast as ineffective. After seeing how your buildings and disctrict operates along with identifing your school / district strengths and pitfalls, sometimes you need a powerhouse in an academic or grade level area that needs help. It’s also totally worth taking those who are in need of some help that identify themselves as wanting assistance to become more effective in their craft. Then you have those who are completely useless. They are proud of it, defiant, paranoid, and angry, fully aware that they can’t be touched because of tenure. Let’s be honest here; this is a rarity. In my entire career, I have come across only two people in that spot (one in an educational position, one not) who were only sticking around to “defy the man” and to prove a point.

Transfers also rile up board members in some districts, regardless of your district size. Some even have policies set in place allowing for direct oversight (more about that in my book coming out this summer). Those being transferred who are not asking are the first to go to a board member and stoke the fire. While most board members understand that the superintendent makes recommendations and the board votes yes or no, other board members break ethics codes and “tag team” to create a beautiful, political, theatrical stage set consisting of tears, yelling, and dramatic votes. I’ve had it both ways as a superintendent, but I’ll share with you one instance where long-range planning truly paid off. 

Knowing that no matter what I said was going to be voted against, but seeing the dire need for movement, I set up a vote to fail. Yes, I’ll type it again. I set up something we (the admin team) worked on to fail. 

Why? Try to follow me here. I initially submitted a list from the admin team knowing it would be shot down. Why would I orchestrate such a thing? Three reasons:

Those rallying against it would be brought together and energized about the position they are in.

Those that don’t like me “get a win” by shooting down something I proposed.

Knowing that staying in their spots would lead to a modicum or no improvement (i.e. like the last 2 minutes of the last episode in every season of the HBO classic The Wire, where nothing changes) the board would have to go along with taking action the following year, despite how they felt.

The results? Perfection. People felt all good that they achieved a win (a huge morale booster), the essential moves took place (the list went from about 1/3 being moved to a handful) and the next year even more names were submitted for transfer. Folks could not disagree anymore; change was needed.

This is the epitome of long-range planning. Besides doing what is best for kids,  nothing is more satisfying than seeing someone carrying on about how transferring can’t be done and how wrong it is, rallying everyone up to fight it, only to then approve an ever bigger list the following year. It also shows how collusion and callousness can go hand in hand. The political part of the superintendency is often a chess game; while the checkmate may be sweet at the time, it’s looking at how the game was played and the long term effects of the game itself.

Was it sneaky? Anyone who doesn’t like me will say it was, and naturally I’m going to say It wasn’t at all. You can try to make the argument that I brought forward something in bad faith, but knowing that I could convince those to not vote for something last-minute was key. Again – the superintendent needs to look at the big picture and try to plan for years out, whether they are there or not. 

 Was this strategic long-range planning? Absolutely. It was a win-win all around, and you will able to see the results in due time. Creating a great team takes time. If the same thing was left in the same spot and  the same thing was done over and over while the world progressed around them, with a teacher or principal refusing to hanger their ways and pedagogues, where does that leave our future? Screwed. Not only does it cost the student academically, but it costs the taxpayer because now I have to provide additional services to help a student who isn’t succeeding.

I am hoping we (the public) will be seeing this in the future as the state department of education continues to progress and begins to roll out public records so everyone can see how a teacher teaches and how one progresses. Then everyone can see where the problem is. And that’s Just the beginning. Great things will be coming to the department of education after this election, regardless of which candidate wins. Like other states, it appears that the public in NJ will eventually be able to see and have access to much more data, including where teachers rank when it comes to state testing. This is essential for many reasons; more about this in my book to be released later this summer.

Transfers associated with short-term fixes are exactly that– short term. It’s about the long term and what results eventually happen–sometimes months, even years from now. Knowing that your actions had a positive impact on the students is what counts. Superintendents want to make positive changes that help our future that will eventually be taking care of us. The public often only gets one version, especially if the haters want to publicize something that is seen as change, additional work, and yes, doing something new. Nobody likes starting from scratch, but sometimes, that’s the best way. 

So, those transfers that occurred this year, last year, or even next year? On behalf of every Superintendent, you’re welcome. Your kids will benefit in the long run, I promise. Believe it or not, that’s why we all do what we do. Like you, we want our future to succeed; doing the same thing every year as the world zooms right past you is a downright disservice. 

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Jay Eitner is a proud product of the New Jersey public schools. A graduate from Union High School in 1997, Jay attended The American University in Washington DC with a BA in interdisciplinary studies. He began his teaching career in Roselle, NJ teaching a variety of subjects including social studies, computers, and digital literacy. Known for being ‘outside of the box’ and for strong technology infusion, Eitner strived to make a learning environment that was student-centered, data-driven, and technology infused. Jay received his Master's Degree from Kean University in 2004 and was hired to teach 8th-grade social studies in the nationally recognized East Brunswick Public Schools. During his time in East Brunswick, Eitner has written & received over $140,000 in grants for his students. Grants ranged from podcasting equipment to creating a fully-interactive gold-rush experience, where students dug for gold during their westward expansion unit. Jay obtained his supervisor, principal, and school administrator certificates from the NJPSA NJ-EXCEL program in 2009. Administratively, Eitner has served as a middle school Assistant Principal in the Washington Township Schools, a K-12 Supervisor of Social Studies in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District, and a Superintendent of the Lower Alloways Creek School District. Jay currently serves as a Superintendent of Schools for the Waterford Township School District. He has presented a series of workshops on digital leadership, technology infusion, and student achievement. Recent awards include the 2015 national Educators Voice Award in the category of Superintendent, the White House MakerSpace distinction, and named to the National Academy of Arts & Sciences as a 2016 Educator To Watch.

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Guest Monday, 18 March 2019