A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A sobering reminder of how much still needs to change on campus

In the wake of the Supreme Court's Wal-mart decision, I found this a sad reminder of how far young women still must travel for true respect:
The recent “She Roars” conference at Princeton celebrated 42 years of coeducation and featured such powerhouse alumnae as Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, and Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp. When I entered Princeton in 1973, the university had been coed for four years. Now, it was hosting a celebration of women’s empowerment, unveiling a landmark study on undergraduate women’s leadership.

On the conference’s opening night, a female a cappella group, the Princeton Tigerlilies, gave a concert. The girls sang prettily, dressed in short black frocks and high pumps.

Then the group’s all male a cappella counterpart, the Nassoons, performed. For the song “ShamaLama,” they serenaded one of the Tigerlilies onstage, with choreography: In rhythm, they pantomimed unzipping their flies, and bluntly thrust their pelvises forward at the lone young woman on stage. Sixteen guys, one girl. The guys smirked, the girl smiled meekly.

I am an ex-director of a collegiate a cappella group. As are my husband and both of our sons. We’re steeped in the traditions and humor. But this was worse than tacky. Women around me were agape with disbelief.

Should we have been surprised, with Yale being sued for its frat boys chanting “No means yes,” and headlines on alleged sexually predatory behavior dominating the news (think Dominique Strauss-Kahn)? Despite decades of women’s “empowerment,” male sexual prerogative is alive and well in our society, and among these Princeton undergrads.

My She Roars schedule showed no events addressing this kind of hostile environment or date rape – and only a glancing reference to sexual assault in the “Undergraduate Women and Leadership” report.

I began feeling angry. Because of the way my own life had changed at Princeton during freshman year. On a rainy night, whose events I’d suppressed for years until hearing a report about date rape on NPR brought it back.

Following a big exam, my resident advisor (RA) treated his rugby friends and me to a beer at a neighborhood roadhouse. After we returned to the dorm and said our goodnights, there was a knock at my door. The rugby team captain asked if he could sleep on my roommate’s vacant bed, since it would be such a rainy walk up campus.

I still don’t know why I let him in. I was not drunk; I remember every minute of the next hour. I said no, he said yes. I struggled; he was the rugby player. When he had finished raping me, he went back to his dorm in the rain. I remember him calling the next day to “see how I was.” I remember hearing people laughing in the background.

He was the friend of my RA, someone I respected. It didn’t make sense. I told no one. I stayed in my nightgown the whole next day.

For years I thought that by letting the guy in, I was somehow complicit in the crime.

I wonder about the climate for Princeton women now, where girls smile prettily while sixteen men pantomime what is essentially gang rape in front of an audience of middle-aged women, many of them moms.

Sexual conquest for a nineteen-year-old man is one step on the ladder to success. Not so for the nineteen-year-old girl who did not consent.

Read the whole thing.

We live in a culture that celebrates "winning" and taking advantage of others to further our own wants, that glorifies a definition of individualism that includes no concept of civic virtue, respect for others, or community-mindedness. When anyone is taught that they should be able to do whatever they want to others, exploitation develops.

We still have a long way to go.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A proud day for Texas....

...although that state is certainly not alone in its foolishness. Texas has now cut $2 billion from its education spending in one fell swoop:
The Texas House and Senate on Tuesday evening sent Governor Rick Perry a bill that cuts $4 billion from public schools over two years.

Balancing the state's 2012-2013 budget -- as required by the Texas Constitution -- depended on the passage of the school finance measure, which would delay payments to districts and reduce the amount the law says the state must pay districts. The state has a two-year budget cycle.

"We have to pass (Senate Bill 1) to fund our schools," House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, a Republican, said during debate on the measure earlier this month, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

But Democratic state Representative Mike Villarreal of San Antonio called the bill the "final nail in the coffin" for Texas schools.
"This legislature will go down in the history books as the worst for public education in a generation," Villarreal said in a statement on Tuesday.

Republicans have the majority in both chambers.

Perry, a Republican who has said he is thinking of running for president, signed the $172 billion state budget into law in mid-June. It spends $15 billion less than the last budget cycle.

The school finance bill died at the end of the regular legislative session in late May after a filibuster by a Democratic senator, Wendy Davis, who objected to the school cuts. Perry then called lawmakers into a special session to resolve the school finance issue.

The last day of the special session is Wednesday. The House is scheduled to meet then, but the Senate wrapped up on Tuesday.

Davis and other Democrats said the cuts to schools would be devastating, leading to teacher layoffs and larger class sizes. But Republicans said the school finance measure was necessary in order to ensure a budget that did not raise taxes or dip into the state's estimated $6.5 billion rainy day fund.

That's what was left in the fund after lawmakers, with Perry's blessing, did approve spending about a third of the reserve, funded by a tax on the state's oil and natural gas production, to close a deficit in the 2011 budget.

The state's budget cuts came in the face of a shortfall partly due to the economic downturn and partly due to the state's reliance on one-time money, including federal stimulus dollars, in 2010-2011. Also, a reconfigured state business tax designed to pay for 2006 school property tax cuts did not generate as much as expected.

I like the Orwellian idea of paying for schools by cutting the money for them. I also like the fact that the new business tax didn't work out as planned. Of course, it depends upon who is doing the planning.

The foolishness in this is that education spending is an investment, and investment is one huge economic problem in this country. Our corporations get tax breaks but do not invest in new jobs in this country. Our states need educated workers but are not willing to invest in education. Many of our students need a good education but do not believe that they need to invest any effort in it themselves-- instead our current education bureaucracy places all its investment in punishing schools for having diverse populations to serve.

It's a vicious cycle.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mixed race students confront college admission dilemmas

Wow. As if college admissions decisions weren't difficult enough as it is:
At the beginning of the college application season last fall, Natasha Scott, a high school senior of mixed racial heritage in Beltsville, Md., vented about a personal dilemma on College Confidential, the go-to electronic bulletin board for anonymous conversation about admissions.

“I just realized that my race is something I have to think about,” she wrote, describing herself as having an Asian mother and a black father. “It pains me to say this, but putting down black might help my admissions chances and putting down Asian might hurt it.”

“My mother urges me to put down black to use AA” — African-American — “to get in to the colleges I’m applying to,” added Ms. Scott, who identified herself on the site as Clearbrooke. “I sort of want to do this but I’m wondering if this is morally right.”

Within minutes, a commenter had responded, “You’re black. You should own it.” Someone else agreed, “Put black!!!!!!!! Listen to your mom.”

No one advised marking Asian alone. But one commenter weighed in with advice that could just as well have come from any college across the country: “You can put both. You can put one. You’re not dishonest either way. Just put how you feel.”

Until this year, questions about race on most college applications were much simpler. A student who was white with a distant American Indian ancestor , for instance, would most likely have identified himself as white.

But students can now choose from a menu of new boxes of racial and ethnic categories — because the Department of Education started requiring universities this past school year to comply with a broad federal edict to collect more information about race and ethnicity. The change has made it easier for students to claim a multiracial identity — highlighting those parts of their backgrounds they might want to bring to the fore and disregarding others, as Ms. Scott considered doing with her Asian heritage.

So the number of applicants who identify themselves as multiracial has mushroomed, adding another layer of anxiety, soul- (and family-tree-) searching and even gamesmanship to the process.

The new options have forced colleges to confront thorny questions, including how to account for various racial mixes in seeking diversity on campus. Is a student applying as black and Latino more desirable in terms of diversity than someone who is white and black? Or white and Vietnamese? Should the ethnicities of one’s distant relatives be considered fair game, or just parents? And what should be done about students who skip the race question altogether — a sizable number of whom, some studies have shown, are white, and do so either in protest or out of fear that identifying as merely white could hurt rather than help their chances in this new environment?

Some scholars worry that the growth in multiracial applicants could further erode the original intent of affirmative action, which is to help disadvantaged minorities. For example, families with one black parent and one white parent are on average more affluent than families with two black parents. When choosing between two such applicants, some universities might lean toward the multiracial student because he will need less financial aid while still counting toward affirmative-action goals.

Read the whole thing.

The effect of the huge increase in multi-ethnicity students reaching their college admissions years is another thing I never really thought about from this perspective, although I did have a Nordic god of a step-cousin go to school as a Native American for free. But what about those whose ethnicity is Asian and African-American, as with the student in this article? Or how about a politician with a white mother and an African father who identifies (and is identified by others) as African-American?

And should it really even matter in college admissions?

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An end to desegregation efforts in Little Rock?

One of my students' favorite stories is the story of the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. The story of the Little Rock Nine, and how they persevered, and the way that the Cold War influenced the calculus of the federal response is always good for provoking that deep level of thinking that history education excels at providing.

What surprises my students is that desegregation efforts in this country are still ongoing. Being kids, they assume that "all that" was settled a long time ago (remember, I wasn't even born in 1957, and they think that I am ANCIENT, so that colors their perceptions, naturally). I have to remind them that desegregation efforts continue even where we live and all around the country, but that they are coming to an end as one asks the question of just how long it takes to ameliorate the harm from discriminatory policies under Jim Crow laws and de facto practices throughout the United States.

Last week a federal judge okayed the end of payments from the state of Arkansas to the Little Rock school district:
A federal judge has halted longtime state payments intended to help integrate three Arkansas school districts, including Little Rock, site of one of the most bitter desegregation fights in U.S. history.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian S. Miller, who oversees the districts' federally ordered desegregation efforts, found the payments were "proving to be an impediment to true desegregation" by rewarding school systems that don't meet their long-standing commitments.

Judge Miller's recent rulings triggered protests by the school districts. But some lawmakers and state officials hailed the decision to shut off the payments, which totaled roughly $1 billion over the past two decades.

Lawyers for Little Rock and the other districts said the loss of as much as $70 million for the year that begins in August would cause budgetary chaos. The state payments amount to about 10% of the Little Rock budget and about 9% for each of the other two districts. The parties have until Friday to seek a stay of the order.

The Little Rock case is among the last of the landmark school desegregation battles, experts say, coming 57 years after the Supreme Court rejected the notion that schools could be racially separate but equal in Brown v. Board of Education.

Federal judges have declared hundreds of school districts desegregated in recent years. Such rulings end court supervision designed to make sure districts move to desegregate—but also can lead to a cutoff of state money to run magnet schools and other programs to integrate campuses.

"School desegregation litigation is on its very, very last legs," said Wendy Parker, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law.

One reason is that Supreme Court decisions have lowered the bar for school districts, allowing them to leave court supervision if they could prove they have made good-faith efforts to comply with their desegregation plans and have eliminated the vestiges of past governmental discrimination "to the extent practicable."

At the same time, schools are enrolling more diverse student populations, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

...it took until 1983 for a federal courts to fully approve desegregation plans there. By that time, Little Rock's student body was increasingly African-American (today it's almost 70% black). So the district sued two neighboring districts and the state, contending that their actions had hampered its desegregation efforts, in part by exacerbating residential segregation.

One example: Officials moved a black public-housing development (public housing then was racially segregated) into Little Rock from Pulaski County.

The parties settled in 1989, with the state agreeing to make payments to Little Rock, North Little Rock, which also majority black, and the Pulaski County Special School District, where white students outnumber blacks. The state agreed to help pay for six racially balanced magnet schools in Little Rock, as well as transportation for students who transfer to schools where they are a racial minority.

In 2007, the federal court declared that Little Rock was in compliance and free from court oversight. The other districts quickly asked the court to grant them the same approval, with the understanding, their lawyers say, that the accompanying financial support would be settled later.

Judge Miller, a self-described "middle-aged black judge" who was nominated by President George W. Bush and joined the bench in 2008, took over the case in 2009. He held extensive hearings on the matter, including testimony on persistent achievement gaps between black and white students.

The judge ruled May 19 that narrowing educational disparities is not legally required, though he expressed frustration. "Few if any of the participants in this case have any clue how to effectively educate underprivileged black children," he wrote in a 110-page order.

The judge found that North Little Rock was largely in compliance with its desegregation plan. But he ruled that Pulaski County still had significant shortcomings, such as spending money on new buildings in affluent white communities while leaving buildings in poor areas in bad condition.

Lawyers for both school districts say they disagree with those findings and will appeal. But the judge surprised most parties in the case by finding that one reason the two districts were not already compliant was that they wanted to continue receiving the state's desegregation money.

He wrote that "the State of Arkansas is using a carrot and stick approach with these districts but that the districts are wise mules that have learned how to eat the carrot and sit down on the job. The time has finally come for all carrots to be put away."

Lawyers for the districts say their clients knew the state wanted to stop paying the money, but they expected to be able to negotiate the end of the state payments over a longer period of time.

Christopher Heller, who has represented Little Rock in the case since 1987, said the cutoff may imperil the district's successful magnet-school program.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, said the school districts have enough money to maintain their programs. "Clearly a lot of people worked very hard to right wrongs, to the benefit of a lot of children," he said. But the litigation, he said, has "reached a point of being viewed as counterproductive."

"Wise mules?" I know LOTS of people in education to which that term could apply. Hilarious.

But wait, there's more!

Yesterday, a federal appeals court issued a stay of the order . Since I cxouldn't find the story anywhere but from the Associated Press, and since they threaten to throw you to the hyenas if you copy their information, I guess you'll just have to go to the link. I'll wait.


Oh, you're back. So here are the questions: Has the state of Arkansas made good faith efforts to end desegregation? Have the pofficials of the school districts receiving the money used the funds wisely? Anyone from Arkansas got any information?

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Are we really surprised? Historical ignorance abounds

Well the latest figures are in from the NAEP, and once again, US students' knowledge of their nation's history is appalling: (Please note the last two paragraphs, which I placed in bold type.)
American students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released on Tuesday, with most fourth graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought American troops during the Korean War.

Over all, 20 percent of fourth graders, 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Federal officials said they were encouraged by a slight increase in eighth-grade scores since the last history test, in 2006. But even those gains offered little to celebrate because, for example, fewer than a third of eighth graders could answer even a “seemingly easy question” asking them to identify an important advantage American forces had over the British during the Revolution, the government’s statement on the results said.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian who was invited by the national assessment’s governing board to review the results, said she was particularly disturbed by the fact that only 2 percent of 12th graders correctly answered a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, which she called “very likely the most important decision” of the United States Supreme Court in the past seven decades.

Students were given an excerpt including the passage, “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and were asked what social problem the 1954 ruling was supposed to correct.

“The answer was right in front of them,” Ms. Ravitch said. “This is alarming.”

The tests were given last spring to a representative sample of 7,000 fourth graders, 11,800 eighth graders and 12,400 12th graders nationwide. History is one of eight subjects — the others are math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography and economics — covered by the assessment program, which is also known as the Nation’s Report Card. The board that oversees the program defines three achievement levels for each test: “basic” denotes partial mastery of a subject; “proficient” represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter; and “advanced” means superior performance.

If history is American students’ worst subject, economics is their best: 42 percent of high school seniors were deemed proficient in the 2006 economics test, a larger proportion than in any other subject over the last decade. But Jack Buckley, commissioner of the statistical center at the Department of Education that carries out the tests, said on Monday that because the assessments in each subject were prepared and administered independently, it was not really fair to compare results across subjects.

On the 2010 history test, the proportion of students scoring at or above proficiency rose among fourth graders to 20 percent from 18 percent in 2006, held at 17 percent among eighth graders, and fell to 12 percent from 13 percent among high school seniors.

On the test’s 500-point scale, average fourth- and eighth-grade scores each increased three points since 2006. But officials said only the eighth-grade increase, to 266 in 2010 from 263 in 2006, was statistically significant. Average 12th-grade scores dropped, to 288 in 2010 from 290 in 2006.

While changes in the overall averages were microscopic, there was significant upward movement among the lowest-performing students — those in the 10th percentile — in fourth and eighth grades and a narrowing of the racial achievement gap at all levels. On average, for instance, white eighth-grade students scored 274 on the latest test, 21 points higher than Hispanic students and 23 points above black students; in 2006, white students outperformed Hispanic students by 23 points and black students by 29 points.

History advocates contend that students’ poor showing on the tests underlines neglect shown to the subject by federal and state policy makers, especially since the 2002 No Child Left Behind act began requiring schools to raise scores in math and reading but in no other subject. The federal accountability law, the advocates say, has given schools and teachers an incentive to spend less time on history and other subjects.

“History is very much being shortchanged,” said Linda K. Salvucci, a history professor in San Antonio who is chairwoman-elect of the National Council for History Education.

Many teacher-education programs, Ms. Salvucci said, also contribute to the problem by encouraging aspiring teachers to seek certification in social studies, rather than in history. “They think they’ll be more versatile, that they can teach civics, government, whatever,” she said. “But they’re not prepared to teach history.”

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Test yourself

In light of the above post, here's a fun little quiz about US political history so you can test yourself. It's not the same test questions used on the NAEP, but could be fun. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

San Francisco schools struggle to pay for special ed

In a time of budget crises for schools all over the country, there are ongoing attempts to cut budgets. But should it be done on the backs of severely behaviorally challenged students?
A plan to close a small school for children with severe behavioral problems is mushrooming into a larger battle over how the San Francisco Unified School District treats special-education students.

In recent months, the district signaled that it intended to end its 31-year partnership with the nonprofit Erikson School in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco and eventually reassign its 16 students to mainstream programs.

That would be just one of many such moves. Facing a $25 million budget deficit, the district intends to transfer all of its 6,000 special-education students into mainstream programs in the public schools over the next several years. The district spends about $122 million a year on special-education services.

The battle over Erikson, which has received $2.5 million during the last five years while operating rent-free out of buildings owned by the district, illustrates the challenges the district faces as it tries to put the controversial policy in place.

Representatives of at least eight students have taken legal action to prevent the district from placing their children in other schools, according to Shelley Lobell, the school’s founder and its executive director. Erikson administrators argue that district officials based decisions about the school on budget concerns, although a federal law requires districts to put students’ needs above all other priorities.

Read the whole thing.

Federal law trumps local school budget considerations, and indeed there are many who could make the claim that these sort of mandates have led to much of the budgetary crises in the first place. But that's an argument for another post.

And then there's those students' future classmates and teachers. There are alternative programs like these for a reason, and they serve two very important functions. One, they allow the disabled students to get a chance at some sort of education. And, to be brutally blunt, they also allow other students to be educated without worrying if they or their teacher are going to get attacked by students with severe behavior issues. Yes, it is very expensive. But, as San Francisco administrators may be learning, so are lawsuits.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Silence and listening

I have not been a good blogger lately.

Part of it has to do with the fact that someone may have figured out who I am, and that made me concerned especially since the last few years I have worked for a principal who is particularly petty. I became concerned about my blogging life-- which I am very protective of, and in which I strive always to protect the names of the innocent, including myself even when I am not that innocent-- might intersect with my personal life and my professional life in unpleasant ways.

This silence has bothered me a lot. One of the great benefits of this blog have been the acquaintances I have made. There have been times when kind words from the readers of this blog have been the only positive feedback I have received that day or even that week. This is so common for so many of my colleagues, and that is a shame.

Also, this blog allows me to speak and be heard when frankly there hasn't been a lot of that available to me at work (see post below).

So I will try to overcome my concern and cautiously resume this very precious dialogue. Thanks to anyone who has still stuck around.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

If you had listened...

Dear Principal,

I bid you farewell as you leave our school. Not with fondness, unfortunately, but with a sense of sadness, frustration, and even anger at the way that our so-called "relationship" developed. Indeed I use this term with some sense that it is completely inappropriate, given that you have done everything in your power to avoid developing any sort of relationship with any of the staff but a covey of sycophants whose servile obsequiousness to your face was actually less revolting than their gleeful mockery of you behind your back.

I come not to mock, but to mourn.

Teachers make their livings partly by being heard. This is one of the great conundrums of education today, since their voices are usually the last ones to be sought out by those that influence policy. You certainly maintained this same pattern in your dealings with your staff. In your interview before your official hiring, you looked us straight in the eye and declared that you were going to "be there" for your staff and support us and set up all kinds of mechanisms to listen to us. As an aside, although it was obvious from the choices of the other finalists that you were "the annointed one," the proprieties were still observed and you were "interviewed by some select staff members." But listening is not a task that you were in any way invested in. And yes, listening can be a task. But it is a task that enables a leader to lead effectively. It is indicative of understanding that the work of any school is the work of all the people there from the maintenance staff and secretaries to the lunch ladies to the teachers and support personnel to the administrators.

It was perhaps cute (or actually a bit Stepford-wifely) that you wore a suit in our school colors even to that interview and then for the first solid year that you were with us. I didn't know they made that many kinds of suits in that color (you may not be able to lead a collie to kibble, but man, you certainly can SHOP). You wore these suits to transmit a symbolic emblem of your investment (monetarily and supposedly emotionally) in our school. But purchasing a uniform does not make you a member of a team. It is not what is on the outside that matters, to use the old cliche. A real leader's raiment is integrity, professionalism, openness, honesty, forthrightness, strength, discipline, vision, and cooperation.

The first thing you did upon ensconcing yourself in the principal's office was attempt to completely redo the daily schedule and course offerings. Now, to be fair, this may have been decreed by our well-intentioned but generally blindered superintendent and/or school board. But it would have been wiser to get your feet under you, see for yourself what things needed to be changed, and THEN moved from a position of first-hand knowledge.

If you were in any way self-reflective and honest with yourself, you would, I hope, realize that your first and greatest failure, before the lying and manipulation and supercilious contempt, was a hubristic failure to listen to people who truly were stakeholders in the school. Or, many many times, to even make an appearance in the hallways at least once a week. Sometimes, we even kept a tally to make sure we weren't imagining the H.G. Wells act.

We were there before you came. We are still here now that you are leaving. We will continue on in the task we have elected to take up-- the education of our fellow citizens and future workers-- and attempt to clean up the mess that has developed because there are no other options for those of us who truly care about this school.

Several people tried to dialogue with you in a positive way about policies and procedures and challenges facing the school. At first, these were vestigial challenges that could not have possibly been interpreted by you as implying any criticism or failures upon your administration, and yet you recoiled from listening as if your teachers were attempting to force you to watch some sort of existentialist French puppet show.

If you had listened perhaps you would have learned or been reminded of yet another crucial lesson for a leader: that those on your staff are PEOPLE who are deserving of being treated with respect and human decency. Countless examples of untruths and half-truths issued from your lips about dealings you had with your staff. You publicly humiliated people with your thoughtlessness and then had the nerve to warn THEM to maintain professionalism and decorum. YOU have driven more than one adult to tears. In front of students. Appalling.

Then there was your response in the face of crises, as I have previously talked about here. We had a few the last few years: natural disasters, tragic student illnesses, and crime waves that could happen at any school, and, if handled properly, are weathered by the school community with little long-term effect. But you didn't seem to be concerned with working with the staff to meet these challenges so much as you were concerned with aggrandizing your own sense of power and limiting the flow of information in a patent attempt to build up the mystique of that "power." Rather than be honest with the staff about situations in the school community, your favorite tactic was to call emergency meetings after school to ask staff to report "ANYTHING suspicious"-- ANYTHING-- while claiming that you could not tell that same staff the context regarding the crisis or concern. By the time staff got home from work, the local news organizations had released far more information about the incident at hand than you had shared with us. You claim that "the law" prevents you from being informative. YOU ARE WRONG, either through ignorance or flat-out dishonesty.

So much that was so wrong. Impugning the integrity of your staff. Behaving like a capricious martinet instead of a person of substance. Hatefulness and incomparable hubris. Farewell, Captain Queeg. Godspeed. Which is another way of saying that you should accelerate yourself out the door. For everyone's sake.

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