The Reckoning

All experiments end; they have to. That is their nature, that is their fate. But none of us thought that it would end in this way.

It started one morning when Jami was asked to come to a meeting with her new superintendent. He presented her with a three-page document itemizing all of her administrative infractions. Although all of them were minor, he felt they were violations of policies that he had been putting in place.

As a result of these infractions, he would tell the school board the following night that he would not extend her contract when it ended the following year.

This decision put Jami in a very difficult position. After consulting her lawyer, she felt that the only way to protect her career was to sign a separation agreement, resigning her position as principal, before the school board met. So she did.

The board accepted her resignation with little discussion. The school and the community, however, were outraged.

The many attempts to engage board members in the transformation that was going on in the Junior High and High Schools had been unsuccessful. The board, which pulled largely from influential families in the community, did not understand what was going on in the building. They had had a good school experience when they were young and saw that there was little reason to change.

Jami's license to innovate had been granted to her by the previous superintendent. She had trusted Jami's expertise as an educator and while she did not fully understand the full nature of the experiment, she believed that Jami and the teachers would always do right by the students.

But then, two years into the experiment, she retired. Jami was encouraged to apply for her position, but the board rejected her, deciding instead to hire someone who knew the rule book, would play by it, and make others play by it.

In public education, the rule book exists, and it is extensive. It is a powerful tool to control the behavior of others.

After two years of working with Jami, the new superintendent decided he had had enough. She was not the type of leader he wanted, and he told her that.

The school and the community, however, had a very different opinion. When her resignation was announced, the students staged a walkout and went over to the administration offices and held a demonstration. The school board meetings became packed as teachers, students, and parents berated the board. They knew whom they wanted as their leader and the school they wanted. And it was not one that rolled back the clock.

What was seen could not be unseen.

They had found their truth, their voice, their path. And they were not to be denied.

In the midst of this struggle that was ripping the community apart, I received an email from Debbie. She was still on the school board, the sole member who understood what Jami was doing, and the only one who voted against her resignation.

She simply assured me: "Just don’t forget that Truth always wins."

That next May, when the majority of the school board was up for re-election, voters summarily removed the old guard and replaced them with ardent supporters of Dayton’s new path – education reimagined.

But that was only the beginning, a new beginning that is still unfolding.

In Jami’s last school board meeting as principal, she finally spoke her truth. Until then, she had been quietly observing the furious winds flying around her.

Her words were powerful. They were then amplified by community members, teachers and students. There was a larger, shared truth that was being spoken, that could not be denied.

The next day the chair of the school board resigned. Two weeks later, the remaining board members negotiated with the superintendent to terminate his contract.

That day Dayton’s school district began the process of rebuilding. Rebuilding trust, based on a new, shared truth.

They say that this work of cultural transformation is not for the faint of heart. That is a gross understatement.

Jami knew that at some point she was going to have to leave Dayton, to carry this story to educators in other school districts. She just didn’t realize that this was going to be her path. But she walked through this journey with courage, empowered by what she knew deep in her heart to be an undeniable truth, one that was unleashing the creative genius in each and every student.

At the graduation a week before that final board meeting, as she hugged each of the graduates, she knew that not only had every student in that class graduated – yes, a 100% graduation rate – they had each been empowered as makers and creators of their own future.

Making Meaning

DOT FROM preview-next-diagram