Testimony of Maddie Luebbert to the BOE, August 20, 2020

Good evening Dr. Hite and members of the School Board. 

I am Maddie Luebbert, an English teacher at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, a PFT member, and a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. 

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the District’s “internal capacity,” or the lack thereof. The problem of SDP not having the internal capacity to do basic things like manage construction projects or handle staff development in-house has been once again unmasked like a Scooby-Doo villain. 

When these stories hit the newsstands, I always wonder to myself, “How would I be treated if this happened in my classroom?” One thing our District does not lack capacity to do is observe and evaluate teachers. Like many teachers, I’ve been observed countless times, always receiving feedback from my supervisors, the assistant superintendent, or their walkthrough crew. When we have debrief conversations, I am expected to take the constructive feedback given and use it to improve my performance as a teacher. If changes aren’t made by the next observation, it will be noted. 

I’m lucky to have supervisors that are both collaborative and trusting, ones that have built our school’s internal capacity for leadership, delegating roles like grade group leader, PD facilitator, or SBTL to our teachers. We take growth seriously, because we know if our data doesn’t reflect enough “growth,” the very existence of our neighborhood school is at risk. 

It seems like the District never stops getting feedback, from its employees as well as its stakeholders and the general public. This is why I’m so dismayed by the fact that whenever a problem is officially identified, our leaders seem surprised to hear it. There are solemn acknowledgements of mistakes made, but no movement towards meaningful action steps. 

So my question looms: How long can we rely on consulting contracts as bandaids to plug gaping wounds in our District’s operations, even after we see one public failure after another? Our district throws away hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time to private consulting firms that have dubious political connections or serious conflicts with our District’s stated mission and action plan. If, in a debrief conversation with my principal, I suggested we just use the school coffers to hire another teacher due to my own lack of capacity or vision to do the job, I’d be on the path to termination. 

The fact is that this District does have the internal capacity to develop and sustain leaders. Unfortunately, if you only search as far as the offices of 440, you overlook thousands of rank and file experts. The reason we have organizations like TAG, the Caucus of WE, and RJ Organizing is because school leaders, authentic leaders whose paychecks don’t reflect their impact, want our students to get the education they deserve. Ask anyone that has spent time organizing during their career and I’m sure they would love to be paid to build sustainable structures for future growth. 

So I ask you to please stop acting out public mea culpas and tossing away hundreds of thousands of dollars on outsourced training. You would spend much less money on long-lasting, effective support if you called on existing leaders in the community.