From the desk of Dr. Soumakian

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© Tiffany israel/OUHSD
Dr. Gabe Soumakian
Leading in a Culture of Innovation during the State Fiscal Crisis

Following the celebration of the holiday season, educators return back to school in January and brace themselves for the release of the Governor’s budget for the following year (2012-2013). It has been a ritual the past four (4) years to expect the worst and hope for the best. Since 2007, education has seen a 20 percent drop in the Base Revenue Limit funding formula that is the economic engine along with our student attendance that supports our schools. This year is no different, there are more smoke and mirror budgeting and built in promises from the State that sometimes never becomes a reality. The Governor’s budget proposal will impact our District with a 5.5 million dollar education budget deficit. On the November ballot measure, he is proposing an increase in income tax to the highest income earner and also increase of a state sales tax to offset this deficit. He has a new student weighted formula based on the number of English Language Learner students and the percent of eligible free and reduced meals which will change how schools will get funded. At one time there were over 44 categorical programs; now the Governor is proposing to keep just three (3), Special Education, After School Programs, and Nutrition Program.

With the budget crisis looming year after year, we will maintain our quality staff and function to best serve our students as a district. Knowing, that staff has taken a share of the budget cuts the past year and now schools are asked by the Governor to cut deeper. The Governor is asking districts to reduce spending equivalent to three (3) weeks of instruction. OUHSD has taken equivalent to nine (9) work days and has reduced instruction by five (5) days. We simply can’t reduce any more instructional days and still be held accountable to the same high standards.

The only solution that will work is collectively working together to lead our District in a culture of innovation. We must examine how we effectively and efficiently manage the work we do and the business of delivering instruction. Typically, businesses in the private sector in a volatile economic condition continue to function the same way year after year either lose market share or eventually go out of business. The only option business has to survive is to reinvent themselves, their services, or products, look at future trends, clearly define the customers need and determine how to recapture market share. The public sector, especially in education, does not operate under the same rules of engagement. Therefore, we need to look at the fiscal crisis and solutions differently.

While the master of innovation has been Apple under the leadership of the recently deceased, Steve Jobs, Apple did experience turbulent times but through innovation pulled away to be a leader in the technology sector. Apple has a reputation of constantly producing products for their customers that even their customers didn’t know they wanted. Apple created a culture of innovation where their customers were left begging for the next big innovative product. This is beyond trending and forecasting, this is intuitive thinking driven by passion for creating an environment that revolutionized how the customer learns to communicate and do business differently. Jobs’ character shaped great technological innovations and has allowed a product to be so personal, so inviting and engaging, so intuitive that people waited in lines overnight to get their hands on it. Apple’s products have changed the social-media world and how we communicate. What would happen if we created an education environment where kids could not wait to get to school and were to stay up all night working in collaboration with their friends to learn and problem solve using their creative genius. Well, what would happen!

We may not all be Steve Jobs, yet we can promote and lead in a culture of innovation by being open to new ideas, look at the world differently, look at problems through multiple lenses and more importantly tapping into our creative genius. It will require Distributed Leadership throughout the organization to take charge of the learning and operation environment. A culture of innovation is typified by an environment within which every single person in the organization is invested in the organization’s success and feels a responsibility to implement new and better ways to achieve organizational objectives especially during the tough fiscal crisis.

I recognize that it is difficult to motivate staff during the financial crisis and continue to ask for more, however, we don’t have an option but to skillfully look for innovative solutions to run the District efficiently while minimizing the struggle to reduce staff. So, here are some suggestions as we look to develop the 2012-2013 budget and as the Board of Education conducts a budget study session on Tuesday, January 24, 2012. These are not budget cutting solutions; rather they are simply ways of thinking about the potential budget dilemma.

· Foster adaptation by supporting staff to develop the “next practices” that will enable the District to thrive in a new world and new learning environment, even as staff continues with the best practices necessary for current success to raise student achievement.
· Prepare people for the “new normal” for conducting business differently since after the economy recovers, educators and staff may not recognize the old way of doing business.
· Simply knowing what to do is often not enough to transform schools and classrooms. All leaders including teachers and staff must know why certain practices are important, when they should be used, and how to apply them skillfully in their own office, schools and classrooms.
· Professional Staff Development is critical for staff to have time to share best practices and define what works and look for alternative solutions while making the practice stick.
· Allow strategic risk taking and experimentation with colleagues followed by reflection and feedback.
· Support innovation and allow it to expand throughout a department and/or school.
· Develop systems that continually support the new innovation.

We spend most of our day at school. Supporting one another and creating a positive working environment is healthy and essential to our survival. I encourage us to work together to address any and all problems we face through the building consensus process. Collectively we thrive and survive no matter the financial picture. We will provide you with budget update information as it becomes available. Thank you for your commitment to our District and keeping Student’s First.

Below are articles that provide information about the 2012-2013 State Budget:

Sacramento Bee: Budget unknowns put school district planners in sticky spot

LA Times: Top Budget Analyst Skeptic of Governor Brown’s Proposal Budget Plan

ACSA Governmental Relations Office

California School Board Association

Building relationships,

Gabe Soumakian, ED.D.

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