COMMUNITY VOICES | The terrible MPS IT Department: How could this happen? Think past SPPS

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This is a message to all of the students, staff, top academic district leadership, parents/guardians, and all community members who have a vested interest in the Minneapolis Public Schools.  There were several articles written at the beginning of June and in the wake of those articles some readers/contributors to the Daily Planet have expressed their concern about the alarming change that has recently occured in the Minneapolis Public Schools Department of Information Technology Services.  The bottom line is it seems way too extreme.  The new culture doesn’t quite seem to fit into what we would hope the culture of public education looks like.  How and why did this happen so suddenly? Why would the district hire the kind of “leaders” who, when you read between the lines, do not have the best interests of the students of MPS in mind? Unfortunately, these very questions were asked at Saint Paul Public Schools over a much longer time period then has been the case in MPS (it was the better part of a decade in SPPS).  Those questions have still never been answered and probably never will be.

I worked under some of the IT leadership that’s now in place at MPS at SPPS for more than three years.  Believe me, that was more than long enough.  Here’s the heart of the matter:  the current IT management at MPS doesn’t care about students, staff, parents, the larger community, or anybody else who should have a voice in how the education of our youth is delivered.  Despite the fact that they would tell you the opposite some of these new managers care about one thing and one thing only:  themselves.  They want the power they think a prestigious leadership position gives them, when, in fact, a true manager doesn’t really have any power.  When you get right down to it he or she really only has authority and responsiblity.  Unfortunately, the current MPS IT management team doesn’t see it this way.  They see themselves as all powerful.  They see themselves as having the same autority as the superintendent of schools and they secretly see themselves as being even more powerful than a large school district’s chief administrator.  They are nothing less than dictators and watch out to those who oppose them and stand in their way.

The sad thing is the same thing that has happened and is still happening at MPS already happened at SPPS.  Qualified and industrious employees lost their jobs in the school district.  People with little to no experience replaced those who were let go or who left of their own accord.  Technology budgets were slashed.  Those employees who were left had to work ten times harder with less resources to work with than they had before.  Dracononian polcies were put in place so the workers knew who was in charge and what their small place in the organization was.  Sound familiar? 

The IT leaders of MPS, just as they did at SPPS, see the workers below them as expendable tools that can be replaced at the drop of a hat if need be.  In their twisted minds, the workers are afforded no rights and no privileges that other school district employees take for granted.  The workers are not allowed to have phones.  The workers must be online the district network at all times so that they can be monitored by their superiors throughout the entire day.  If the manager finds out the employee has said anything that could be construed as an independent thought that employee will be contacted and disciplined by their manager.  This could be for a small “infraction” such as emailing a clerk to let them know a shipping box will be arriving or asking a question about a warranty for laptops.  I know it’s not logical or rational and it goes against every appeal to reason you can think of as well as all sound judgement.  So, once again, the question remains:  how could these individuals be hired as their department leaders in a “progressive” school district? I really would like to find out the answer to that question some day.

Ironically, some of the changes these individuals put in place can be for the better.  These individuals put in place a service desk ticketing system at SPPS.  When a staff member submits a ticket potentially any IT employee could be assigned that ticket and could assist the staff member with their request.  The tragedy is, these MPS IT managers only care that the ticketing system holds their workers accountable (theoretically, anyway).  These managers only care about tracking their employees’ work.  They don’t really care about the service that is being provided (again, despite what they claim).  With competent managers who care about the success of students and the needs of staff this kind of system is a great asset.  So it is clearly not a problem of systems.  It is a problem of individuals, specifically individuals with authority who do everything they can to abuse that authority. 

The direct cloud of fear, mistrust, and intimidation brought to bear by these IT leaders still hangs over MPS but, mercifully, lifted over SPPS about six months ago.  The repercussions of such damaging leadership and policies over the course of many years can still be seen within the SPPS Technology Services department but those lingering problems are slowly and surely fading away.  They say time heals all wounds.  So it shall be at SPPS.  It is up to you, the people of MPS, to decide if this model of leadership is the model that you want to help shape the education of your children and the future direction of the Minneapolis Public School District.  I’m thinking at least some of you think there’s a better way.