Las Vegas Sun

May 6, 2015

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Letter to the editor:

Could Hsieh’s style work for schools?

Another view?

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Education in our great state of Nevada has been provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The resignations of James Guthrie and Dwight Jones have opened the door for changes in the educational leadership style that they both displayed.

Please let our elected officials look to the successful leadership style of Tony Hsieh as they replace these two superintendents.

Hsieh knows that a successful business is built upon a management style that values employees. A work setting where employees are embraced and valued establishes the very foundation for success. I implore those involved in selecting Guthrie’s and Jones’ replacements to look to what the future of a successful employee-valued business plan will provide for our children.

It is time to throw away the educational model currently in place that pits administrative leadership against educational employees.

During my 30 years with the Clark County School District, I had the opportunity to work with principals Fenton Tobler, Ron Fagan and David Harcourt. These men, in their administrative roles, valued their employees. They, like Hsieh, knew that by doing so, they built an environment for success.

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  1. There's little doubt that a cooperative relationship between Administration and Educational employees will achieve better results than a continuing adversarial relationship.

  2. Tony Hsieh deserves kudos for his business acumen. I grant him that due. But don't think his business model translates to public education systems, especially CCSD. It doesn't. Hsieh and his business leaders pick and choose their employees, all of whom want to be part of the company and bring something to it to increase business profits. Public schools don't. All children must be accepted and educated, like them or not, good, bad, and indifferent. Educational success and achievement are not measured by company profits but student grades. Huge difference.

    Carmine D

  3. I'm having a difficult time coming up with a good analogy....regardless, I can see a good movie coming out of the free-wheeling entrepreneur meeting and reforming the Bismarkian bureaucracy.

  4. Tony Hsieh is an entrepreneur having a reward system based on common interest and trust.

    The Las Vegas School District is a system having common interest, and lacking trust.

    Starting from the State Superintendent, to the Las Vegas School Board, to the School Administration, to the Teachers, and the Union. A relationship built not on trust in the common interest. Each group wanting to extract from the system, motivated by self interest.

    The student is nowhere to be found in the discussion, but used as a pawn to further the agenda of each authority.

    News Flash: Bottomline, the school system in Nevada is broken. Solution: Make each authority accountable, no guarantees to the managing authorities, measure student success on the fulfillment of the student's interest.

  5. Mr. Hsieh built a successful business with the clear goal of customer service and satisfaction. His approach to management comes directly from that. In order to change the direction and outcomes of CCSD a new super will have to define and serve customers....students and their parents.

  6. Over time, the relationship between educational administrators and teachers (including support staff), has become progressively adversarial. It is a "business model" as well as a cultural and mind set, that has become worse as time passes. Frustation levels are at an all time high for all parties involved.

    Writer Terri Robertson suggests that Nevada educational institutions currently lack, "A work setting where employees are embraced and valued establishes the very foundation for success." If we surveyed those workers today, they would most certainly confirm this fact. Those lower on the chain simply no longer feel the love nor appreciation for the dedication and hard work that they have provided, often off the clock.

    It is human nature to try to please those above us for that recognition. Education is a people business, not a corporation (and in the last twenty years, the corporate culture has been shoved down the throats of educators---how's that all working out???). From the eyes looking for approval by children learning a new skill, to those nurturing those children looking for some sort of affirmation/any affirmation, to those who find financial gratification as their only approval rating (administration).

    We have witnessed the weakening of education around the country with educators meeting with loathing and hatred rather than support and appreciation both at the workplace and with the public at large. Responsibility and failure is being placed on the backs of educators rather than the leadership whose mandates they must follow.

    That has caused a major shift of those in the profession either retiring early or leaving, as well as those who are considering education to rethink that as a career choice. Education now has a negative image problem that must be resolved before moving forward.

    So far, Tony Hsieh has not proven himself,nor his ideology in education. He is a corporate businessman with interesting ideas and has the means to implement those ideas. We are talking about Las Vegas, Nevada here, not what works in other parts of the country. He offers what Nevada Lawmakers so far have not offered: funding education adequately and efficiently.

    For now, I will wait and see what develops with the presence of Mr. Hsieh. Time will only tell.

    Blessings and Peace,

  7. Hello people....Not one comment about the students!

    What? You all are more concerned about how the workers feel? Saying, they not appreciated? What? Just remember why we have a school system.

    You know, the end game.

    Many of you sound like your out of touch. Way out of touch!

  8. What do teachers want from the superintendents of Nevada and Las Vegas? Be specific.

  9. True leadership is the same, be it in business or in academia. Tony Hsieh possesses true leadership qualities.

    He started with a vision and his employees all look at that vision with a single lens. All initiatives are juxtaposed against that vision and decisions are made based on their fit to that vision. That is made clear from the beginning and when each new employee is hired. No politics, no drama.

    The school district's vision is so muddled that everyone in the district had to look out for his own self, least he or she stumbles. Many have. From the superintendent down to the lowest man on the totem pole, there is an atmosphere of distrust. Every one seems to work under the gun, you better do it or else. This has translated in the classrooms where professionals, who after years of doing their job, have developed guiding principles on how children learn, what they like to do, and what their motivations are. However, these grounded beliefs have been dismissed as ineffective and teachers have been threatened to do exactly as they are told: "Teach this curriculum at this amount of days, and this amount of time. The children will be assessed based on this curriculum every week, and if they do not progress as expected, you are considered an ineffective teacher." We are teaching children, not the curriculum! This has resulted in an unbelievably hostile school environment. Teachers felt threatened and demeaned, and this has been exacerbated by the reduction of their status, salaries, and benefits. The belief that 'it is not what you know, but whom you know' is pervasive anywhere you go in this district.

    True leaders institute a systems thinking where everyone believes he or she is part of the whole, that the whole can only be strong if each small part is strong. All must share a vision that what they do will benefit everyone, including themselves. True leaders effectively communicate this philosophy and with his employees' design a clear path, a compelling picture of how to get there.

    The school vision should be CHILDREN. In this district it is NOT!

  10. Every time the issue of the School District is discussed, ALL we hear are complaints from teachers and administrators about themselves.

    What they don't have, under paid, too many students, no material, safety issues. Well, guess what? This is the result of a broken school system.

    A bed made, is the bed one sleeps in. Always pointing the finger at someone other then themselves.

    ....Do you all really think the real reason Dwight Jones left was to attend to his mother.

  11. The educational system in Nevada has been broken for quite a while, that is true, Longtimevegan. Even when I ran a school in California, there was a certain dread in receiving new students from Las Vegas, even back then. It did not get there overnight, but over a period of years, headed by local School Boards, District Superintendents, and the Nevada Department of Education, with, of course, the public's approval and support.

    The fact remains that Nevada has woefully underfunded education for years and has been reaping the results of that. Both Jones and Guthrie saw the funding handwriting on the wall. To aggrevate this situation, there exists a revolving door of discipline, which students and their parents are absolved of any and all responsibility. How's that all working out?

    Hey, if Tony Hsieh revolutionizes education successfully, great! Have we seen that yet? Yeah, thought so. But I look forward to the results, because the last couple years of hype and suspense has me sitting on the edge of my chair. Bring it on!

    Blessings and Peace,

  12. Go back and look at Dan Rather's excellent series on AXS TV (Direct TV) reviewing Educational Systems around the world. There are several that work well using differing methods at which the educate successfully. I personally like Finland, a country with a Larger Population than Nevada.
    None of these systems are proprietary, copyrighted with nations unwilling to share their experiences with everyone else. What good is a Nevada Education that will not support the students life goals and Universities and Employers having a jaded view of the educational system. The way I see it Educators, Administrators, Politicians, Students, Parents, etc.. have far too little at risk by continuing the current failed system.

  13. The issue is not whether Tony Hsieh and his employees are like Dwight Jones and CCSD principals and administrators. The issue is that teachers and students are not like employees and profits.

    Carmine D

  14. No. The issue is leadership. Jones do not have it.

  15. "No. The issue is leadership. Jones do not have it."

    A leader in business does not necessarily translate to a leader in education. Just as a military general in U.S. history doesn't always make an effective president.

    Carmine D

  16. Leadership style is the same. Read Senge, Heifetz and Linsky, Bennis, Argyris, et al. It is about how to lead people - how they can identify realities and design solutions among themselves - with the leader facilitating the process. Read about successful companies and schools and their leaders - their character and philosophies.

    It's about fostering a thinking that each individual member is part of a whole and the strength of the whole is dependent on the strength of individual members all working to attain a shared vision.

    Jones failed in that regard.

  17. Machiavelli's "Prince" was a good leader too. Good for mob bosses, dictators, and kings. Not democracies. Can't compare the two: Business models and education systems. It doesn't work. They function differently regardless of the people involved. One based on money and profits. One based on students and grades. That's the issue: They are fundamentally distinct and different entities at their core values and principles.

    Carmine D

  18. Please tell me this: If it is leadership that is the issue, then why do business leaders, in your view, make good Superintendents but political leaders do not? If it's about leadership, the venue whether business or politics, should be irrelevant. Right? Explain to me why one in your view, business leaders, is relevant for success in education and the other, political leaders, is not. And think about the 27th governor of Nevada: Quinn.

    Carmine D

  19. Sorry. Should have typed "Guinn."

    Carmine D

  20. Thank you Ben, Nancy, and Carmine...exactly the points. We should be using successful school models, have qualified, effective, and true leadership, and there is no comparing as being equals corporate and educational models of doing things.

    Any "leader" of an educational system, must be extremely knowledgeable and experienced with the classroom, students, parents, staffing, and the running of schools, besides being a fierce, well connected, political entity. A person of those qualities and caliber are the proper fits for such a demanding position with rigorous requirements.

    Have Citizens gotten their taxpayer money's worth? Will Nevada and Clark County stay a course that is turning education into a battlefield rather than a respected and useful institution?

    Blessings and Peace,

  21. Look for Governor Sandovol to place us on a path to improve Nevada's education system.

  22. "Machiavelli's "Prince" was a good leader too. Good for mob bosses, dictators, and kings...."

    Mobs bosses, dictators, and kings. No. They are not leaders. People follow them because of intimidation - fear for their lives. Hitler brought a whole nation and the world to war. It does not mean he was a good leader.

    "...Business models and education systems. It doesn't work. They function differently regardless of the people involved. One based on money and profits. One based on students and grades. That's the issue: They are fundamentally distinct and different entities at their core values and principles"

    I am not talking about group composition. I am talking about LEADERSHIP QUALITIES - what make leaders - good leaders.

    "..why do business leaders, in your view, make good Superintendents but political leaders do not?..."

    I did not say that. What I said was a person who possesses the skills and qualities of a good leader will succeed regardless of his career (business or politics). However, in addition to the leadership skills, to be effective, he or she must have the 'expertise' of the field. Without the expertise, he may succeed if he surrounds himself with experts - which Jones did. He must also have great communication skills. Jones lacked these important qualities to effectively communicate his vision. His actions were in direct contrast to what he professed he believed.

    What is lacking among our leaders is how they need to value the greatest resource any entity possesses - human resource. Great leaders know that the strength of the organization is wholly dependent on the strength of each individual member. Without valuing human resource, all you get is compliance. You do not get the 'buy-in' that will sustain the organization through 'thick-and-thin.' You will not get a convergence of purpose - the sole driving force of an organization to work for a common goal, which they know will not only benefit the organization but themselves as well.

  23. Then, I opine you agree that a good political leader, like a good business leader, could make a good School Superintendent. Correct?

    Carmine D

  24. First and foremost, he or she must possess the qualities/skills of an effective leader. S/He must have a clear vision of what he must accomplish - in this case - excellent children education - ALL children. All decisions must be juxtaposed against that vision.

    S/He must have excellent communication skills and be clearly understood.

    He or she must have a basic understanding of teaching and learning, high moral values, and highly intelligent with analytical and critical grasp of broad concepts.

    S/He must be beholden to no one except the children; must not be afraid to make decisions, regardless of oppositions. If a decision turned out to be wrong, s/he must not be afraid to accept mistakes and quickly redirect.

    If this person exists, be s/he a businessman, a politician, or an ordinary teacher, he or she can be superintendent.

    The current leadership paradigm is woefully flawed. We keep looking for, hiring, or voting for the same 'highly qualified hacks' and look at us. We are mired in muck and it is as though there is no way to extricate ourselves.

    We operate based on cliches - on 'proven methods' - doing the same thing every time and hoping for better results each time. 'Let's try it again, and again, and again,' hoping for better luck the next time around.

    Are we really this dense?

  25. "If this person exists, be s/he a businessman, a politician, or an ordinary teacher, he or she can be superintendent."

    Then, conceivably a Superintendent can be a combination of some or all of the above: Politician, educator, business person, as long as he/she demonstrates leadership. Correct?

    Carmine D