Dropout Summit: Part 2
By Eddie Griffin
Friday, April 03, 2009
I saw him with 2020 hindsight, Michael Sorum, Chief Academic Officer for the Fort Worth Independent School District, bringing up the rear in the buffet line at the Dropout Summit. I noticed his name tag first, though I should have known him now by sight. In lieu chicken breast, I chose rather to chew on Sorum. Either that, or we were going to chew the fat together.
“What’s our mission?” I asked.
“Mission Impossible, sir,” he replied.
We both burst into laughter. He remembered my last words when first met. Our mission is Mission Impossible... meaning a 100% graduation rate with kids who can hit the ground running.
“Okay," I replied. "So, you know now what YOU have to achieve.”
“Oh no sir,” he replied. “That's what WE have to achieve.”
We’ve been going at it, indirectly, for some time, testing, testing, testing by fire... hot fire... rapid fire... and straight shooting at point-blank range. In my mind, I was holding Mr. Sorum responsible for our district’s low academic achievement.
When our school superintendent Melody Johnson introduced Mike to me, the Leo in me growled. Surely, she must have known that this was like throwing Daniel into a lion’s den. She just casually, out of the blue, asked “Oh, I want you to meet with our Chief Academic Officer.”
Chief Academic... what? Let me go back and get an organization chart of Dr. Johnson's executive cabinet, this ISD army of intellects, because I had never heard of a Chief Academic Officer.
“And, what is the basis upon which you are evaluated each year?” I asked the academics officer, as we shook hands. It was a direct question, like YUM, I’m fixing to eat your lunch.
“Upon the basis of the district’s academic achievement,” he replied.
“Oooh,” I said, turning to Dr. Johnson, a surprised but coy look on my face and secretly thinking in my mind: “Can you believe it, this guy still getting a paycheck?” Let me not rush to judgment in a food frenzy, this may be his first year on the job, I thought.
“Before a student graduates out of my class," I told him, "they must achieve MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.” It is the starting point of mutual understanding between me and all of my students and understudies. My students ask for this challenging methodology, vowing no tears at failure.
No student is allowed out into the big world until they come through me. I am the hardest obstacle they will ever encounter.
There is an art behind Paradoxical Thinking. The answer to the question:
What happens, when an irresistible force meets and immoveable object?
Of every student, I ask this question. Then I set myself up as that immoveable object. I represent resistance. The object is to stimulate an equal counterforce. They, the student, must become an irresistible force. In other words, in order to graduate out of my class, a student must have learned how to think for themselves and solve multiple problems of diverse sizes.
The 2020 Hindsight perception starts in the year 2020 and looking backwards to today... that is if Planet Earth lives to see 2020.
This is how a Chief Academic Officer should look at planning a future education system suited to the needs of today’s first graders... that Class of 2020.
Congratulations to Mike, not only did he show up with Dr. Johnson’s executive cabinet at the Dropout Summit, but he was back in the trenches on Tuesday night, at the Poly High School forum.
This is 'hood turf, not a place for the fainthearted. Nevertheless, here comes the general, Dr. Melody Johnson, with her army onto the battlefield of ‘hood turf.
My footprint is upon this turf. I walk this beat here.
So, I was compelled to look at Poly High School which is threatened with terminal sanction. One more bad academic report... no telling what the state was going to do. And, closure was the almost certain option.
But during the program and pep rally motivated to save Poly High School, I heard teacher team leaders talking about their team-building efforts and collaborative teaching methodologies, and an all out mental assault to reach academic achievement. I saw and heard testimonies to the effect: all-hands-on-deck.
If they fail, I thought, they will at least go down with a great fight.
During the entire Poly forum, I sat next to Michael Sorum, our Chief Academics Officer, who was sitting, as it seemed, still in an uncomfortable hot seat.
As I departed, I shook his hand and said, “You got a winner here. I love the effort.”