By Bobby R. Henry, Sr.
(with the help of a train person with knowledge of the equines)
The horse has been dead for about six months now, yet Vickie Cartwright has remained sitting upright, shoulders back, feet firmly secured in the straps and hips and legs pressed firmly against the beast’s body.
She didn’t get the memo. The horse is dead and when the horse has expired, the best strategy is to dismount.
About 20 years ago, there were variations of a story, How to Ride a Dead Horse. Leadership organizations would share this as a humorous way to jolt leaders out of holding on to outdated practices long after they have lost effectiveness.
I thought I would share a few of them in the context of the current situation in Broward.
- Buying a stronger whip. No amount of whipping will whip Cartwright back into shape. She was never in shape. We were warned by Osh Kosh, Wisconsin of her bad behavior and inability to improve. Dismount.
- Changing riders. We have changed riders by adding new Board members. The condition of the district remains the same. It has little to do with the Board members who left. The dysfunction created by Cartwright was in full effect before the Desantis Five were ever appointed to the Board. The horse is still dead. Dismount.
- Saying things like, “This is the way we have always ridden this horse.” Broward has operated in a dysfunctional, corrupt fashion even before Cartwright was hired. She was actually hired because she demonstrated early on that she fit well into the dysfunction. There has been a call to end the corruption by addressing the culture of corruption. Let today be the first day to ending the madness.
- Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses. When you look to the north and south of Broward, these two districts dismounted dead horses and moved quickly to replacing their carcasses with vibrant, live ones. In fact, the riders of the dead horses in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach understood the smell of dead carcass and dismounted so that their Boards could move the districts forward. But not Cartwright. She rides with proud indignation. Dismount before the damage done keeps you from ever being hired as a superintendent again. When anyone googles Cartwright’s name, it won’t be pretty. But what will help her is for her to say she is dismounting to do what is best for the district, its students and community.
- Increasing the standards for those who ride the dead horse. Broward continues to talk about Cartwright leading the district to becoming an A district, yet the continuous scandal with her name keeps the focus on dealing with corruption instead of student achievement. FTX, lost and missing text and email messages, inappropriately using her authority over principals, the “entanglement” with Anna Fusco and the Broward Teachers Union (BTU), school administrators feeling abused. To stay the course under these conditions is selfish. It is time to dismount.
- Appointing a committee to study the dead horse. This is akin to the recent audit performed to look at the relationship of Jillian Haring, a vendor from PCG and Cartwright and other school board personnel. Either the auditing firm was incompetent or somehow became compromised. The School Board Auditor and the firm hired to do the audit presented as if Cartwright was paying them from her personal checkbook. As the layers were peeled back, it became evident that there were only two outcomes possible: inconclusive because they could not access the emails and text communications from several employees or positive for inappropriate relations between and among Haring and SBBC employees based on the limited communications secured. From what I understand, the firm’s efforts to get files that were actually available was shoddy, at best. And there were employees that they should have spoken to that they internationally did not speak to. Due to not having access to all files, it is impossible to rule out inappropriate relationships, yet the district auditor and the firm hired to do the independent audit made statements to the contrary.
- Waiting for the horse’s condition to improve from this temporary downturn. The Super was given 90 days to improve. Yet, within the 90 days the stench of dead carcass has gotten worse with the email and text message release. The hits just keep coming. Dismount.
- Providing additional training to increase riding ability. During the 90 days, I suspect that Cartwright would have training. She doesn’t need training more than she needs reflection and coaching. Reflective practice is one of the most powerful skills of effective leaders. She does not reflect as evidenced by her not learning from the experience of her first superintendency in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin. Having a coach is also a necessary and effective tool for leaders. Cartwright, however, has chosen poor coaches from losing teams. Who chooses to align themselves with a coach who would have been removed from the very office that you work for had she not left previously for another elected office? Cartwright has poor judgment, and it is arguable if you can fix poor judgment. She needs to dismount.
- Passing a policy declaring, “This horse is not dead.” Cartwright was fired one day. It was reconsidered the next day and she was fired again. Now, a new Board member, Jeff Holness is bringing it again. Repeat after me. THE HORSE IS DEAD. DISMOUNT.
- Blaming the person who sold you the horse. This is Cartwright’s signature. She takes credit for things she had absolutely nothing to do with when there is credit to be taken. Yet she points the proverbial finger of blame at the nearest person in the room when things go awry. Cartwright took credit for fixing the Cap and Gown debacle. She failed to detail how it was fixed and give credit to staff who led the efforts to right the cart. She couldn’t do that because the person who led the process to correct the Cap and Gown process was demoted by her last year.
- Acquiring additional dead horses for increased speed. This is all about Cartwright’s hiring dead horses. She hired Mike Walker as Executive Director of Professional Learning. He is the guy who didn’t apply for the job, didn’t interview for the job, and has said time and time again that he doesn’t know what he is doing. She passed over two very competent, doctorate holding Black male directors in the department who actually interviewed for the job. She simply appointed Walker because she didn’t know what to do with him after she eliminated his Director position from the organizational chart. Here’s an idea. Demote him to principal like you did the four competent Blacks who have PhDs. But Cartwright couldn’t do that to a white male. Here you have six PhD Black Directors, and you go and pluck up a non-PhD white male who has no experience in the job, didn’t apply or interview for the job and admits he knows nothing about the job. Cartwright promoted him to his level of incompetence and relegated him as a dead horse.
- Declaring that, “No horse is too dead to beat.” See number 12 above. She promoted Walker to an Executive Director job he has no experience in and just left him, all employees of the department and the at-large employees of the district in a stench. Her expectation is that the two Black, PhD males in the department who she passed over for the Executive Director job will keep the work going. Black people are used to this. We get passed over for promotion for less competent Whites and are expected to train them or be characterized as “Angry Black Men and Women”. I guess the idea is to just beat Walker until he learns a job that could have been taken by two Black male PhDs who could have done the job with ease.
- Providing additional funding to increase the horse’s performance. Word is that Cartwright has hired an image coach and she is using District funds to pay for things such as signature sponsor at events such as the National Panhellenic Council of Broward County. These efforts are coming off as disingenuous, at best. There are Black people who were in the dark about what was happening with Cartwright. Her half-hearted attempt at rubbing elbows with the Black community is now heightening the awareness of dead horses lying around everywhere stinking up the place.
- Commissioning a study to see if lay-leaders can ride it cheaper. I am not sure about cheaper, but Cartwright hired a handful of leaders from Orange county where she once worked and most of them are Black. This was her response to the criticisms of demoting Blacks. She went and found some Blacks to replace them with. The question is, can they do the job? Marilyn Doyle went from being the director over high school principals to Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning. Another hire, Tonia Green went from being a principal to Executive Director of ESE. In all fairness to them, Cartwright’s strategy of quietening the racial noise is not fair to them. The principals find Doyle brash and condescending and Green has nothing seen the likes of politics from the District’s ESE Advisory. But they are Black, and they will do. It is time to dismount.
- Removing all obstacles in the dead horse’s path. I love this one. The obstacles on Super Cartwright’s path are the very competent people who led the work, but she was so intimidated by competent people that she literally eliminated an entire department from the organization chart. She neutralized the influence of competent people and replaced them with people who look like them. These “look -a-likes” will not speak to issues affecting Black, Brown, and marginalized students. They are like Cartwright. Walking Dead. Their main focus is ensuring their survival. Dismount.
- Taking bids for a state-of-the-art dead horse. There is no state-of-the art dead horse, but Cartwright, with her power-points riddled with erroneous information makes it appear so. At her first firing, she presented a long power point detailing the work of others to save herself without giving an ounce of credit. When questioned on failures, she shoved others under a transit bus. Only days after the meeting, many of her state-of-the-art accomplishments were debunked with data. Specifically, her explanation of a sharp decline in the population explains the enrollment decline in Broward. The Sun Sentinel debunked that. She also talked about the offerings at public charter schools that were nonexistent in BCPS. That is ridiculous. BCPS has some of the most incredible opportunities for students in their magnet and innovative programs. The Super would be hard pressed to name one program in a public charter that is not in a BCPS magnet or innovative program. The problem is that parents can smell the stink of the carcass from a dead horse and have left the building. Did I mention that she demoted the Director of Magnet programs? Did I also mention she was Black with a PhD and has written a book on leadership? Dismount and bury the horse.
- Declaring the horse is “better, faster, and cheaper” dead. I can agree that keeping a dead horse is cheaper, but over the long run, the cost to our children is catastrophic. There is no price you can put on our children’s education. The damage being done as we speak by keeping a dead horse lying around will be worse for the district’s students and employees. It will cost more to fix and take longer than most in Broward have left in their careers to clear the air of the foul smell. Dismount the dead horse.
- Revising the performance requirements for horses. We say we want an A district. Yet, we are not focusing on student achievement. We say we want safe schools. Decisions made by Cartwright have made our schools less safe than they were prior to MSD. Poll the principals and teachers and they will attest that schools are not safe, and they do not feel safe. Cartwright’s realigned security personnel from the safety department back to principals. What she did was shift the responsibility of safety to principals, but she left all of the power in the Safety department. Dismount before someone is hurt or killed.
- Saying the horse was cheaper than one that was “alive.” In order to clean up this mess, the school district must be willing to do a national search to attract a pool of the most talented educational leaders out there. They are out there. We also must be willing to pay them upwards of $400,000 a year with a lucrative package. In considering the foul odor of dead horse carcass that has permeated every layer of the organization, a half million a year is probably not enough compensation for the cleanup that needs to done. We need a superintendent who is a cleaner not a mess maker.
- Asking for increased donations. (Any excuse will do.) I understand that Cartwright has been asking some community leaders to meet with her to share where her missteps happened. This is actually a good thing, but at this juncture, it doesn’t matter. Her missteps were already outlined for her by the people from Osh Kosh, Wisconsin. She came to Broward and immediately began making the same mistakes. Asking community leaders to donate wisdom at the 11th hour is like spraying cologne on a decaying carcass. It is time to move on. Dismount the dead horse so we can all move forward from this nightmare and get back to the Broward School District we once knew and loved.
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