Chapter 9 White’s Law of Reciprocity

White’s Law of Reciprocity

Superintendent White was the second biggest dog in the pack that was Senior Admin of the Granite District School Board. Only the Director of Education was more Alpha than him But the position of Director kept changing hands. In the past few years the job had passed between Carl Holzbein, who had run off to British Columbia with an elementary teacher at least half his age, Angela Testaverdi, who had more or less been run out of town by the Trustees for suggesting that country kids weren’t getting the same opportunities as those in Granite City and Gilles Crapaud who had been running things for a few years now. Or so it seemed.

The reality was that White was running things as he always had. Sure the Director got the good office, the nice car and the bigger golden parachute when his time was up. But the Director’s position had become a lot like being the Governor General. You went to cocktail parties; you made appearances at important fund-raisers and you cut ribbons at important openings of new schools; well, you would if there were new schools to open.

Director Crapaud had arrived from Toronto. The Trustees, in a surprise move, had gone outside the GDSB for its current director. That had rubbed a few noses the wrong way. When a new director is named from inside the GDSB, a lot of people get bumped up the career ladder. If the director was a superintendent, then a principal is made superintendent, a vice principal is made principal and a department head is made vice principal. But when the Trustees go to another board for the new director, all that career bumping goes on in the other board.

Now don’t feel bad for Angela Testaverdi. When they run a Director out of town, they do it nice and gently. She got to keep her BMW, she and her husband got to go to two “conferences” in Las Vegas and Bermuda and she got a nice retirement gratuity. So don’t feel sorry for her. Could the Board afford all this? They just took it out of the French grant. After Testaverdi the next in line was Superintendent White. Now he would have to wait it out until Director Crapaud left and Crapaud was younger than he was. But Superintendent White wasn’t going to wait quietly.

He had to put his stamp on a lot of innovative programs that would call attention to him and make it clear in the minds of the Trustees that he was the chosen one, the crown prince.

A few years ago it was the dog plan. It worked like this. Put a big happy friendly dog in every Guidance Department in the Board. Students walk in with their problems and the first thing to greet them is a big goofy smile, a wet tongue and a whole big coat of fur just waiting to be petted. Who would care about their worries after that? And what a beautiful photo op. White next to a cute 15 year-old girl and an even cuter dog. That would make the first page of the Granite City Gazette-Times. And it did. Mind you anyone looking at it was going to pay attention to the girl or the dog and ignore Superintendent White, but the people who really counted would see him there and know who was responsible for the good PR.

Meleesa Cook walked slowly one day on her way to Guidance. She didn’t usually go to Guidance. It wasn’t because she didn’t have problems she could discuss with a counsellor. She didn’t feel right talking about her shyness with a stranger. But she was bursting inside. There was this boy that she liked, really liked. He didn’t seem to know she existed. She could talk to her mother about him, but what did her mother know about boys? She could talk to her father, but what did her father know about anything? Some of her friends went to Guidance when they had problems. Some of the girls at her school had a new problem every week and spent more time in Guidance than they did in class. She wasn’t friends with any of those girls though.

The cameras and reporters weren’t around when Meleesa, who was feeling a little more nervous than usual entered Guidance and was surprised to have a black lab jumping up on her. What was a dog doing at school? She didn’t like dogs, even the quiet ones. And this one wasn’t quiet at all. He was big and very excitable. An outsider might have said that here was one big ol’ friendly dog with a big ol’ wagging tail. Meleesa didn’t see it that way though. She saw paws as big as her face and a tail that could knock her right over. She screamed, the dog got excited and did knock her over, she screamed some more, the dog got more excited and you know that the only place this vicious circle is going to go is where she runs out of the room in tears and the dog pisses all over the floor.

Bad boy.

Mr. Cook phoned the school as soon as he heard about the incident and demanded to know what the fuck the school was doing using dogs as guidance counsellors. Had they gone nuts? What idiot had thought that one up? Why can’t schools just do what they’re supposed to do? He was going to go to the press and see what they had to say about girls being attacked by school board dogs.

Bunny managed to calm him down and avoided the bad publicity but that was in end of the dogs in Guidance at LBSS. The program continued for quite some time at the schools in Granite City were perhaps dogs and 15 year old girls are less excitable.

Next came the obesity initiative. It hadn’t been his idea. The idea had apparently come from the phys ed head at Lord Byron, but he was quick to jump on the band wagon. When the idea proved popular, Tanker had been pushed aside and replaced with a more pliable newby. The obesity initiative brought in a lot of positive press and enquiries from other boards. Like most things in education it didn’t run long enough for there to be any measurable results. But of course that didn’t stop the Board from claiming victory before shutting down the program. Students who had lost weight were paraded in front of the camera. It was never really clear if it had been because of the program, in spite of program or the result of something altogether divorced of the program. In education you take credit for anything that appears to work and blame others for everything else. The most extreme case was the kid who had lost 48 pounds due to chemotherapy who was shown to the press as one of the success stories. They threw a baseball cap on his head to cover his lack of hair. Anything for good press.

But the obesity initiative was a cow that could only be milked so much.

So last year Phil White went looking for a way to hit the ball out of the park. He needed something big and bold. Something that would bring lots of positive press, would be associated directly with his name and would have all the appearances of being pedagogically innovative. After thumbing through some educational journals, Superintendent White came upon a brochure from the Colorado Institute of Learning. It was bright and glossy. It had colour pictures of good-looking, smiling students from racial diverse backgrounds having fun while learning. It promised great results. It seemed almost too good to be true.

So Superintendent White called the toll-free number and was impressed when it was Ken Smith himself who answered the phone. According to the brochure Ken Smith was a guru of evaluation. It was Smith who had invented the concept of Potential intelligence. And, for a small fee, he was willing to share the results of his research.

Superintendent White explained to Smith that he was looking for innovation, that he wanted to make a statement that would have a lasting impression and that he wanted to take the Granite District School Board in an entirely new direction.

Smith said that he had found his man. White had hardly put the phone down when there in front of him was the man himself, wearing a broad smile and a stetson hat. He had apparently got the first plane out of Colorado. Mrs Oliver, Superintendent White’s secretary showed him to a chair and set down herself. White wanted a written report of the negotiations.

You bettya. We can put something together for you all. Our philosophy is that it’s not how smart you are that counts. It’s how smart you look.”

I don’t get it”

Are you the smartest person in the Board?”

Probably not.” White forced himself to be humble.

So why are you number two in all the Board?”

White thought about answering honestly. He was where he was today because he had kissed all the right ass, play golf-a really stupid game- with all the right people; because he knew how to take credit for the work of others. He had gotten drunk with the most boring people in the world, called them all by stupid nicknames and allowed them to do the same to him. He joined every committee going and lived by the rule of three meetings. It stated that if you had three places to be at the same time, you used each one as a reason to not be at the others and just went home early. It didn’t matter that you went to the meetings-nothing was ever accomplished at them anyway. It mattered that you had your name on the paper that the committee eventually would write. He had coached the right sports too. The ones like football that got plenty of good press. And here it mattered that you knew what you were doing, for it is a widely held believe that leaders come from the coaching ranks. Artsy-fartsy English teachers don’t make good leaders. Jocks do.

Number two in the Board” how he hated being called that. Number two was the first loser. The silver medal is just a piece of jewellery. He was smarter than Crapaud and all the ones before him. He certainly worked harder than Crapaud. Hell, even the little statue of Buddha on his desk worked harder than Crapaud.

You’re where you are in the Board ‘coz they’ll think you look smart. Don’t matter chicken’s teeth iffen y’are. Just so long as you look it. Now y’all listen up and I’ll explain how everything works. It ain’t rocket science, y’know.”

You seem more like you’re from Texas than Colorado.”

Oh yeah, that. Well y’all gotta understand that it might be called the Colorado Institute of Learning, but it’s located in Littletown, Texas.”

Why not call it the Texas Institute of Learning?”

Well y’all gotta understand that recent research has shown that people don’t associate ‘Texas’ with education very much any more. I dunno why that is. Colorado sounds a lot better. Any way lemme tell y’all about our research.”

Go on, then.”

Lemme tell all about P I Q.”

P I Q?”

Potential Intelligence Quotient. We judge students not by how smart they are, but how smart they look. Successful people look smart, whether they are or not. Y’all want to go to a doctor who hems and hawls. Even if he knows what he’s doing, he don’t make you feel confident. Who are the best politicians? The best bankers? The best lawyers?. As I say to my wife all the time: It’s not the meat, it’s the motion, baby!” And with that he slapped his knee.

Go on”

Y’all want success in life for your students?”

Yes”

Y’all want your schools to be the best in the country?”

Yes”

y’all want your parents to be happy with the job that the school system is doing?”

Yes”

Y’all want to be number one?”

Yes!”

Well, then lemme show y’all a couple of forms to fill out and we’ll git ya on your way to tomorrow. Now, y’ all will excuse me a moment.” he said as he walked out of the office. As soon as he was alone, Education Guru Ed Smith took out his cell phone and made a brief call: “Edwina, it worked like a charm. He bought it all, hook, line and sinker. It’s been a pleasure doing business with y’all. Got any other potential customers, like Phil here?”

About twenty minutes and $100,000 later, the Granite District School Board was on its way to the education nirvana that the Colorado Institute of Learning was promising. Now you might ask if a superintendent can just spend $100 000 like that without checking with the Director and the Trustees. Well he might not have the authority; but he does certainly have the ability. Neither the Director nor the Trustees were really watching what he did, so he did as he pleased.

After that followed a lot of training sessions for senior management, so they could get their minds around the idea that the kid who worked hard, did homework faithfully, studied for tests and handed assignments in on time was now the new delinquent of the school system. These training sessions couldn’t happen at the Learning Centre. The Learning Centre was full of offices and busy people running from point A to point Z. Anyway the Colorado Institute of Learning had a number of clients, mostly in the US and was running sessions almost constantly. Not in Colorado, mind you, or Texas. Hawaii seemed like a more appropriate place.

After Crapaud and White and their girlfriends or wives or whatever came back from being in-serviced in Hawaii, their assistants who also went to Hawaii, rented space in the best hotel in Granite City and trained the Principals and Vice-Principals. Now you might wonder how the Board Office became the Learning Centre at a cost of $3 million in renovations, which they didn’t take out of the French grant this time and yet there’s no space for Principals and Vice Principals to meet. You might wonder that and if you’re a tax payer in the area controlled by the Granite District School Board, you might want to phone someone in authority and demand an answer. Good luck with that.

Phoning the Learning Centre is an adventure and by ‘adventure’ I mean something you would do if you decided that your life was too good, you were too happy and you needed to feel like the majority of people who live miserable lives. If you enjoy frustration, please go ahead and attempt to connect with the appropriate person at the Learning Centre. First you’ll get a menu. Not a menu like in a fancy restaurant. You get a very mechanical sounding woman, who is on at least half of all phones in North America. Let’s call her Betty. I think you already know Betty. The first choice Betty will give you is press one for English and two for French. Why you are given that choice by the GDSB who by definition is an English language school board isn’t clear. Some Trustee obviously thought it was important for national unity. Perhaps Gilles Ducheppe and other Bloquistes have changed their entire view of English Canada knowing that the GDSB offers phone frustration in both official languages.

Now Betty will ask you if you know the extension of the person who you are calling. Of course you don’t. If you did, you would have dialled it. Don’t try arguing with Betty on this point. You won’t win. Next she will suggest that you punch in the first three letters of the person’s name. Of course the phone isn’t really good for spelling as each number has at least three letters. But Betty doesn’t give up easily. She’ll guess away until you find a familiar name or you give up. Betty must be hard of hearing because she says “I’m sorry I didn’t hear your selection.” an awful lot. Betty will also promise that you can talk to a real person any time you want. Don’t believe her. Of course you don’t know who to talk to. It’s not like there’s a Superintendent of Complaints. If you do get through to someone’s extension, they won’t be there. No it’s true. They are never there. Or at least they have taken a vow to never answer a ringing phone. You will be invited to leave a message in the voice mail box. But since they never answer their phone, their voice mail box is full. And you are kicked back to Betty who repeats “Thank you for calling the Granite District School Board. Press one for English et composez le numéro 2 pour service en français.” So there you are. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

You wanted to know why there isn’t room for meetings at the new and improved Learning Centre. The answer you would get, if you actually found someone to ask and this someone was prepared to tell you would be that there is in fact room at the Learning Centre, but that it’s nice to get out once in a while and hotels in Granite City are a good deal compared to those in the big city.



Principal Bunny loved the concept of Potential Intelligence. He thought that he would have done a whole lot better at school if he had been evaluated along Potential Intelligence lines. Bunny dressed well, spoke well and came across as a charismatic guy. If you can if fact be charismatic and at the same time afraid of people. In school, and especially at university he didn’t make every class or meet every deadline. It had had no effect whatsoever in his ability to do his job. Randy Doyle felt a little different about rewarding the lazy kids and penalizing the hard working ones. Doyle had always worked hard at school and on the job. He thought that so called ‘charming’ people got a free ride and this was just going to add to it. Why shouldn’t deadlines count? Why should kids get away with cheating or plagiarizing? Yet all this was part of Potential Intelligence. Oh well, he thought, at least I won’t be the one that has to sell it to the staff. Doyle looked forward to watching Bunny explain all this to the staff.

One of the students who should have benefited from Potential Intelligence was Jordan White, Phil’s second son. He could be best described by two expressions: gifted athlete and complete dink. As well as being middle line on the senior football team, Jordan played open side flanker on the school rugby team and was a champion wrestler. He had athletic ability to spare. As a linebacker he seemed to be a part of every tackle. There was a rage about him that on the football field or rugby pitch was directed and focused. He scored more points on interceptions than the team’s receivers did . When the team lost as it always did, the joke was that the defence hadn’t managed to score enough points. And by defence everyone meant Jordan. His coaches loved him, not because of who he was but what he could do for the team. Well most of his coaches loved him; his wrestling coach was a little afraid of him and was always glad when his bout was over and no one was hurt. Jordan was always on the edge and Coach Gillingham’s biggest fear that he would one day go too far and injure his opponent.

It’s hard to say what made Jordan a complete dink, assuming of course that dinks are made and not born. All the attention paid to him as an athlete since the age of six had certainly gone to his head. But there are a lot of gifted athletes who are humble, polite and friendly individuals. No one had ever accused Jordan of being humble or polite or even friendly. So it could have been that what made him the dink that he was, well was the fact that at school he got away with murder. Every teacher and every Principal that he ever had had realized early on who his father was. Even before he made Superintendent, it was very apparent that he was in the express line to promotion and it would be wise not to cross him.

Jordan had been recruited by several football programs, Queen’s, Ottawa U, Acadia among others. And by the University of Western Ontario. The Western football program had won six Vanier Cups and looked like a good bet for the next few years to come. Western was far and away his first choice. These days university players have to be good athletes and good students. Nowhere was this more true than at Western.

Problem was Jordan was not a good student. None of his teachers thought that he was smart and he spent so much time out of class-time he couldn’t afford to miss- that he never got good marks. And that was going to be a problem because as much as the football program at Western wanted him, he still needed to be accepted by the university admissions office. And his current marks weren’t going to do the job.

But what was the point of being Superintendent, if you couldn’t get your kid into the university of his choice? Years ago, when White wasn’t Superintendent White, not even Principal White just biology teacher White, the then Director of Education had come to White one parents’ night and asked what he had against his daughter, why he was giving her such low marks, why he wanted to ruin her life. White had been trying for several years to get into Administration. He was trying so hard that it had become a joke among his colleagues. They called him Brown nose White. There wasn’t a committee he wouldn’t join, including Status of Women and Aboriginal Education, even though as a black male, he was neither woman nor aboriginal. Even the Interdisciplinary Curriculum Initiatives. He never even found out what that committee did.

The Director’s daughter’s marks took a quick turn upwards and so did White’s career. The next year he was Vice-Principal at Chevalier.

Superintendent White didn’t see where things had changed. Jordan needed help in English and Biology. The other four marks weren’t going to be a problem. There were enough light courses on offer to give him a good average. Mrs Witherforce , his English teacher, was easy enough to influence. It only took one complaint to Bunny about a couple of essay marks. Could she justify such a low mark? Could he have them reassessed by another English teacher. When Witherforce heard of all this from Bunny, she could see the writing on the wall and just changed the marks upwards. She had always wanted to be in Administration.

Biology was another matter. He had Perkins for senior biology. Perkins had been around the block once or twice. He had seen all the games being played. He had seen the kind of people selected for Admin and he didn’t care what they did to him. They couldn’t touch him.

He gets the marks he earns. Like everyone else in my class.”

But he looks smart.”

And I look rich!” which he didn’t unless dishevelled is the new chic.

Things could get a little hot around here.” Bunny said without much conviction. He felt awkward about the whole thing. But White was good at putting pressure on his underlings. Bunny wasn’t the type to stand up to White or anyone else for that matter. Bunny liked being in charge of a school; he liked having an office; he liked the way people listened to what he had to say; but he really wasn’t a people person. At least not a people-with-a-complaint person. He wanted mostly just to be left alone. He really didn’t like dealing with all those problems that the students caused. Give them a punishment and the first thing they do as soon as they’re out of the office is phone their parents and start getting out of it. Sometimes they wouldn’t even wait to be out of his office. Take a firm stand with the parents and they just go over your head to the Board. If Bunny was afraid of students, the Board was even more afraid of parents. They always gave in to them. So what was the point? Bunny was really only happy being Principal when he wasn’t at the school.

What exactly are you saying?”

I think you understand me perfectly. Either the mark improves or…”

Or what? Is that a threat?”

Let me finish. Either the mark improves or White will be on my back.”

Is that my problem? What is White going to do to me?

Do you really want to find out?”

Yeah, you know. I think it might be kind of fun to see where he goes with this.” Perkins was enjoying himself. “Tell him if he wants results he is going to have to talk to me personally.”

Come on. Don’t make it worse than it is.”

Worse for me or worse for you?”

The new day Mrs. P. informed Perkins that he had an appointment with Superintendent White.

When?”

Four o’clock Tuesday.”

Tell him I can’t make it. My mom is sick right now and I’m spending all my free time looking after her. Ask him to come here.”

Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

I’d like to keep it quiet.” Perkins was a bit of a military history buff and he knew that the General who picked the good ground usually won the battle.

Sure enough, Tuesday at four o’clock White was there. Perkins was paged to come to the office. He phoned down instead and said he couldn’t leave the room as he was in the middle of setting up a lab and had a number of specimens about.

Begrudgingly, Superintendent White walked up to the second floor biology lab. The ripe smell of formaldehyde greeted him at the door. Throughout the room were fifteen or so dead cats waiting for dissection. Dressed in his old dirty lab coat, Perkins looked up from his front desk.

Ah, Superintendent White, how are you?” Perkins wondered if it was going to be the carrot or the stick

His eyes started to sting. “Please call me Phil.” So it was going to be the carrot to start. “We need to talk about Jordan’s progress.”

Oh, is Jordan your son? I didn’t realize.” Perkins lied. “Well it’s pretty easy to discuss his progress. There hasn’t been any. He started the semester slow and hasn’t changed.”

Do you check homework very often?” White has looking for something to blame on the teacher.

No, they’re in grade twelve. They’re almost adults and no one is going to make them do their homework next year. But he doesn’t appear to do it very often. Do you check his homework at home?” Perkins deflected the blame back.

He’s very busy with football right now.”

Too busy to come in at lunch for extra help?”

There’s football meetings at lunch.”

His choice. He gets the mark he earns.”

How can we make this problem go away?”

Well.” Perkins paused a moment before going on. “I’d like to go away to Montreal over the holidays. Stay at the Queen Elizabeth at Board expense.”

That can be arranged. And my son gets an A?”

Hold on. I’m not done. And I want a different hooker every night. Also at Board expense.”

White looked at him for a good minute. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

Damn right I’m serious. If this got out, it could ruin my career.”

I don’t know how we can arrange that. I mean it’s not like they take credit cards.”

The upscale ones do. Just get me your Board credit card and I’ll take care of the rest.”

And for all that my son gets an A.” Half question half statement.

A plus.” And offered him his hand

Deal.”

Pleasure doing business with you.” With that Superintendent White left the room. A minute later Barovsky walked in and” was surprised by the formaldehyde and the cats.

You’re not leaving these cats out overnight, are you?”

I’m at the dentist tomorrow first thing. I’m showing a movie. Help me put these cats back in storage.” Said Perkins as he walked over to a camcorder attached to a tripod and shut the machine off. “Say do you know anything about posting to Youtube?”

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About Jim Russell

Retired high school teacher from Sydenham, Ontario

Posted on January 13, 2012, in education, humor, school, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. It’s great that you’re writing a school-themed novel. So few of them exist. Have you ever read Notes on a Scandal (What was she Thinking?) by Zoe Heller? It’s a nice little teacher novel.

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