• Tip Of The Hat

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    By Dr. Rebecca Hamman

    Our 2024 high school graduates deserve a ‘tip of the hat’—congratulations! We acknowledge your academic skills, aspirational dreams, and potential to change the world. Please step out boldly and bravely…you are our hope.

    The Stamford Board of Education (BOE) deserves a different ‘hat tip’—a 2000 online term that draws attention to something interesting. What is it? Of course, the power of groupthink (Janis, 1972)—a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group. This phenomenon can be highly problematic and here are five signs that it is consistently occurring:

    Illusion of Unanimity… This symptom leads BOE members to believe that everyone agrees or is on the same page. Just watch how actual votes take place. Since meetings are videotaped, see our elected members in action. Some wait until the lead voter votes and then vote the same way—unanimity at its finest.

    Rationalizing… Instead of ignoring warning signs or reconsidering their beliefs (i.e., 2 years of Votes of No Confidence & community petitions; low district morale; vague district data; party partisanship; lack of meeting preparation; etc.), BOE members can easily fall into this trap—especially if they have ‘no skin in the game’ (no children currently in the K-12 schools, no education-career background, etc.). Why does it seem that mediocrity is acceptable?

    Stereotyping… This BOE has an ‘in-group’ that ignores, bullies and even demonizes ‘out members’ who oppose or challenge their ideas. Even when addressed publicly in meetings or in writing, the in-group continues to ignore important ideas or information. Again, watch almost any video or attend a regular monthly meeting…it is quite clear who is ostracized.

    ‘Out-members’ are not limited to BOE officials. This group also includes many parents and SPS staff who continue to feel ignored and disrespected when administrators use Town Halls and Zoom PTO meetings to reactively address safety. Where are BOE members when these meetings happen—anger is amplified and much more visible than reading online complaint letters?

    In conjunction, ‘out-members’ include secondary teachers who had to watch last year’s fallout from decoupling attendance and grading as well as deal with next year’s new schedule forcing children to sit through 96-minute classes. Why does the BOE system seem biased if it overlooks what is developmentally best for our kids?

    Mindguards… Self-appointed censors on the BOE have hidden concerning information from the entire board over a 5-year period (e.g., unfair labor practices, grievances, state complaints, ineffective district policies and regulations, mishandling of special education children, ongoing school behavior patterns, etc.). This, in turn, puts the BOE on alert, especially when newspaper headlines usurp BOE executive meetings. Is this acceptable behavior for elected officials who manage just one employee?

    Illusion of Invulnerability… Some of the BOE members are overly optimistic and seem to engage in reckless risk-taking (program restructuring wasn’t presented until May; the budget was passed knowing many teachers would be RIFed (Reduction in Force) or lose jobs; more administrators were added to the payrolls without accountability; and achievement continues to be questionable without proper assessments). Are students, families and taxpayers really getting a true bang for their buck?

    Groupthink is not the answer.

    Here’s to the future of SPS… a tip of the hat for our students who matter the most and force BOE officials and other community leaders to stand on integrity and principle, not bureaucracy.

    Dr. Rebecca Hamman currently serves as the Ad Hoc Policy Chair for the Stamford Board of Education. Her comments are her own, and do not represent the official views of the Board of Education or its committees.

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