When you’re the rock, rolling down hill just gets worse and worse


We’ve discussed before the many angles of attack a crisis may take. These include from a competitor, an act of nature, a change in law, and dozens of other ways. The worst crisis, at least at its genesis, however, is the self-inflicted kind, the one that a little care and forethought and awareness would have, should have, precluded.

A bad move last week by the president of the Buffalo School Board is the latest example. The board met for 90 minutes and chose a new schools superintendent. The two finalists were experienced and well-qualified, one from inside the system, one from Philadelphia, Pamela C. Brown, right.

Like many school systems charged with educating predominantly inner-city children, Buffalo has struggled with test scores, graduation rates and creative ways to turn cycles of poverty, violence and teen-age pregnancy into viable educational opportunity and achievement. The board, by a vote of 7-2, chose Brown over acting superintendent Amber M. Dixon, below. The point here, the crisis ignition, is not who will make a better superintendent. It’s why a school board that loses more than it wins continues to screw up.

Board President Louis J. Petrucci, who was one of two members voting for Dixon, informed her of the board’s choice in a five-word text message, apparently sent from the board room. “It’s going to be Brown,” he texted Dixon. With friends like these…right?

Surely Petrucci, who by all accounts is a fair-minded and smart board president, probably didn’t want to keep Dixon on edge, or have her find out from someone else she’d been passed over.

But the seemingly brusque, disrespectful treatment of Dixon, someone who’d given more than 20 years of her career to Buffalo’s schools, smacked of dismissal and rudeness. And, the perception that the board is clueless increased because the obnoxious text all but overshadowed the choice of a sterling educator who will bring fresh outside perspective and experiences to bear on Buffalo’s problems.

To my knowledge Petrucci did not publicly apologize; he should. More importantly, people in leadership positions must think through their actions more thoroughly and focus on the perception their decisions will ignite. Avoid the self-inflicted crisis, or you’ll never get to deal with larger systemic problems.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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