Back in the days when I was hiring people, I didn’t pay too much attention to resumes. Of the things that mattered, work experience trumped education every time. I could not have cared less whether the person sitting before me graduated first in her class at Harvard. What mattered was her experience and her record of success.

Oh, and the cover letter – that was a biggie, too. I was hiring for positions in marketing and the ability to communicate clearly and concisely was important. So let’s say a candidate included this sentence in her writing samples:

“This is the time of year that reality sets in and we redouble our focus of the immense task set before us.”

The person who wrote that sentence would not have been granted an interview and any prospective employer with a decent command of the language would pass on this candidate, too. Why? Because there are tragic errors throughout.

In its basic form, the sentence should have read:

“This is the time of year when reality sets in and we redouble our focus on the immense task set before us.”

Aside from the poor grammar, there is the point that it is gibberish. It doesn’t say anything concrete and would make a terrible opening sentence to a letter, memo, or anything else you’d want someone to continue reading. And I’d like someone to explain how one “redoubles” one’s focus…

Unfortunately, that is the opening line to a memo (presumably) written this week by Supt. Navarro and distributed today to district employees.

The rest of it is just as bad. There are so many errors that the pen of a sixth grade English teacher would run out of red ink before he was through correcting it. This memo is embarrassing. If you want to torture yourself, here it is:

This is the time of year that reality sets in and we redouble our focus of the immense task set before us. Our goals for this year are twofold: to build a guaranteed and viable curriculum across the district, and to place an emphasis on student mastery. Both of these are colossal and ambitious goals,with many tasks that need to be accomplished along the way in order to successfully produce college and career ready graduates. I know that everyone in our district would agree that every student should be reading at grade level by third grade. I know that we all support the goal of producing students with college‐entry literacy and math skills, whether our graduates go to college or straight to work. I also know that we want students to learn to be respectful, considerate, and caring adults that will be assets to our communities. This should be the legacy of N‐MUSD schools. In today’s information era, these are also prerequisite skills needed to succeed in a 21st Century economy. When we look at all that is required to effectively realize such an ambitious agenda, one could begin to feel overwhelmed.

I got a sense of this in talking with teachers at a recent Rigorous Curriculum Design (RCD) session. I stopped by the sixth grade team of Kris Hoffman, Gladys Green, and Tracey Carter, as they discussed all of the tasks that needed to be completed. Each is masterful in the classroom, and like so many in our district, they are committed to doing everything humanly possible to ensure their students’ succeed. As a group we discussed how important it is to balance competing priorities. As teams at the district and site level, we also need to prioritize and re‐prioritize on a regular basis to successfully manage this important work. This doesn’t, however, give us license to dismiss or eliminate any initiatives we know play a critical role in the development of our students. It does allow us to effectively prioritize and to focus on the issue that is most pressing at the time. Afterwards, we can turn our attention back to other equally important matters that we know are essential in transforming the lives of our students. This simple strategy can assist us as we work on immensely important tasks and more efficiently manage our workloads. Our work is extremely complex and critically important in meeting the needs of each individual student.

Establishing a guaranteed and viable curriculum, and working towards student mastery are long‐term commitments. We are going to get there with conviction and determination, but it isn’t going to happen overnight. Let’s make sure we take every opportunity to work together throughout the system, to communicate and support one another so that we can do this important work well, in the most efficient and expedient manner possible. Together, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Fred

Me again. There is also the point that the entire memo says nothing. There is no outline of any plan, no specific recommendations, and no point other than to try to rally the troops, which is clearly the intent. Why, I’m not sure, but it reads to me like a note of desperation.

There’s some hypocrisy, too. Navarro wrote, “This doesn’t, however, give us license to dismiss or eliminate any initiatives we know play a critical role in the development of our students.”

I recently recommended a low cost, high return initiative that has been dismissed. It is a proven method of improving academic performance but it will not be implemented because I was the one who suggested it. So please spare us the “big tent” speech.

So, one might say, “But Steve, your grammar, syntax, and punctuation aren’t always perfect. Who are you to judge others?” 

It’s a legitimate question, even though it is a deflection mechanism designed to draw attention away from the original subject, which is that the superintendent of our school district does not have a very good command of the language.

My answer is this: You’re right. I take a lot of liberties with the language and I’m sure there are errors that I miss when proofreading. But I’m not the superintendent of the school district I don’t have a doctorate to flaunt which, in this case, makes the memo even more tragic.

When the school board names me superintendent, I promise I will “redouble my focus of the immense task set before me.”

Steve Smith

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