Groundhog Day? Try Platoon.

Ah, January.  The time of year when staffing and budget discussions dominate, and I can’t help but sense the parallels to the Billy Murray classic, Groundhog Day.  Only, our reality isn’t remotely funny.

Unbeknownst to the communities around us, who now descend on our schools for winter conferences and discuss the state of their children for 2011-2012, school administrators are facing 2012-2013 realities.  It is at this time that we participate in our annual ritual of doing the math, calculating the budget cuts, and targeting staff as the only viable option to carve out millions of dollars.

Critics say we’re bloated.  However, those critics have never run a school or a district; the only thing bloated is their incessant rhetoric.

Many districts are running on empty.  Entire departments are gone; they exist only in the form of a department nameplate on a door.   But hey, who needs professional development or curriculum? We’re only trying to educate children.

It is at this time, just like a succession of years, principals get to tell the same people that their jobs are in jeopardy and that the personal investment they’ve made in building their school’s culture and fostering its success is being rewarded with a heartfelt thank you.

And a transfer.  Or, a pink slip.

Critics will tell us that those teachers should be thankful to have a job and that we should make do with those who remain.

In essence, we should lower our expectations.

I’ll agree to this when those critics are thankful for the results our cuffed hands produce.  Lower our standards, while everyone is rightfully raising their standards for us?   It’s a laughable and insulting concept.

Those same critics will tell us to downsize and run our schools like a business.  But businesses recoup their losses to stay viable and profitable.   Perhaps we should be allowed to charge baggage fees.  One backpack?  Free.  A backpack and a lunch box?  I’ll need your credit card number.

This year’s budget fiasco has districts again considering dire and dramatic responses in the area of personnel.   In the eyes of these officials, I see the same weariness.  Call it war fatigue, and we’re running out of options.

Perhaps the 80”s movie parallel is more Platoon than Groundhog Day.

Can such shakeups promote change, invigorate a system, and improve our product? Absolutely.  Unfortunately, many of us will be losing the very people that we need to lead a reinvention of the system.

Who’s to blame?  Lawmakers? Unions?  School leaders?  To some degree, we all deserve to be assigned a level of culpability; this has been a long time in the making.   Whether through apathy, antiquated policy, unrealistic ideology, or a lack of vision, we’ve all contributed.  Blame?  I don’t care at this point. There’s a reality on the ground that is far more important: children.

Yes, it’s Groundhog Day, but we desperately need the support of a Platoon-like air strike.


Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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