Participatory Decision Making In Quincy, Massachusetts

Participatory Decision Making

In Quincy, Massachusetts




Seidenberg has incisively commented, “Modern man has learned to accommodate himself to a world increasingly organized. The trend toward ever more explicit and consciously drawn relationships is profound and sweeping; it is marked by depth no less than by extension.”  In the United States, the first systematic approach to organization, and the first comprehensive attempt to find organizational universals, is dated 1931 when Mooney and Reiley published Onward Industry. Since that time various ways of understanding organizations have developed. Scott categorized these ways of understanding as (1) classical, which studied the anatomy or organization and provided the basic concepts of division of labor, scalar and functional processes, structure, and span of control, (2) Neoclassical, which asserted that the above classical concepts needed to be modified by the fact that human beings operated organizations and, in so doing, they created informal networks which could and did radically modify the way span of control division of labor, etc. actually worked within the formal organization, (3) Modern organization theory, which is conceptual-analytical based, relies on empirical research data and, above all, is integrative in nature. The events about to be described are most easily understood as actions, transactions and outcomes which may transpire when a school system undertakes the task of simultaneously trying to understand itself as an organization, and as the new understanding grows, changing its own organizational nature according to a basic principle of increased participation, at all levels of the school system, in decision making.

The principle of increased participation in decision making is clearly supported in some modern organizational theories. Bennis, for instance, has characterized the social structure of those organizations which will go beyond the bureaucracies of the industrial revolution as, “Adaptive, rapidly changing temporary systems. These will be ‘task forces’ organized around problems-to-be-solved.  The problems will be solved by groups of relative strangers who represent a set of diverse professional skills. …People will be differentiated not vertically, according to rank and role, but flexibly and functionally according to skill and professional training.”

What follows is the description of the ongoing process of developing participative school system decision making in Quincy, Mass.

In recent years educators have been forced to come to grips with the oft-heard challenge that learning experiences offered to young people in the public schools are simply not in touch with reality, let alone what is projected as the future. Concurrent with this developing awareness is the recognition that authoritarian, line-staff patterns of organization for decision making do not result in critically needed behavior changes on the part of the more than two million of us who make up the educational establishment. In a complex and changing organization, the traditional practice of dictating decisions from the top to acquiescent subordinates does not work-and is, indeed, obsolete.[1]

Now the emphasis is and must be on participation in the decision making process. It is a truism that he who is to be affected by a decision must be involved.

Participation or involvement in the decision making process are terms that must be defined operationally. They can best be defined by those who will be affected by a given decision. They take on meaning concurrent with problem identification and must be formalized prior to any attempt at problem solving.

Group involvement in the decision making process does not mean motion without direction. It does not mean abdication of responsibility by those in positions of leadership in order to appease the apathetic, the uninformed, or the radical. It does not imply a devious round-about way of engineering consensus. Group involvement in the decision making process suggest power with people and not power over people.  It assumes that he who has shared in the development of a decision is more personally committed to the decision and has a vested interest in seeing that action follows decision.

There is a growing body of research to validate the importance of group involvement in decision making. Research by social psychologists has shown that the acquisition and exercise of problem solving skills is affected by the sheer presence of other persons. At the most elementary level some experiments outlined by Zajonc report the following:

  1. Participants report that an urge toward greater speed is produced by the activity of other, and they report greater emotional excitement (and distraction) than when alone.
  2. The largest performance gains occur for individuals who give evidence of having least interest in the task itself.

Zajonc cites further evidence which can be interpreted to mean that social conditions increase motivation for high task performance. For several years the educational community of the public schools in Quincy, Massachusetts has been attempting to decentralize and make operational group participation in decision making. While the need has been recognized, the skills needed to effect such a change are still embryonic. And, although the achievements to date are modest, but visible, the commitment to the process is deep.

Historically the Quincy Public Schools have been linked with innovation in public education F. W. Parker, colleague of John Dewey in founding the University of Chicago Laboratory School, served as Superintendent of School’s from 1875 to 1880. During that period he brought national recognition to Quincy to the point where Merle Curti, the educational historian, has suggested that progressive education in the United States virtually began in Quincy.

In a more contemporary sense, the present period of renewal of the teaching-learning process in Quincy began within a year after the 1963 appointment of the now former Superintendent of Schools, Robert E. Pruitt. The events of the past six years chronicle the efforts of an educational community of 850 professional to make learning more relevant and individualized for the nearly 17,000 young people enrolled in the public schools of Quincy. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on participation by staff in decision making. The process of involvement has been, is and must continue to be evolutionary. Involvement has not been defined in explicit concrete terms A PERT chart for participation has not been developed and it is doubtful if it could. Human behavior, trust, and commitment cannot be automated and no effort has been made to project such development on a chart.[2]

Early in the present period of renewal activity the administration shifted from solely advocating changes in curricular offerings to recognizing that there was a prior need to examine and establish a climate for change within the school system. While convinced that many program offerings were no longer relevant to the needs of young people and that teaching strategies were in many instances not consistent with what is known about how young people learn, the administration concluded that if any curricular changes were to take place, emphasis must first be placed on establishing a climate for change. Miles has pointed up the need for school systems to consciously create a climate which would support growth and development. He states, “The problem, in effect, may not really be a matter of getting specific teachers or administrators to accept SMSG math, team teaching, IPI, or any one of a hundred specific acronymic inventions. Rather, . . . anything that could be done to induce a general climate of inventiveness, creativity, willingness to take risks, or excitement, would in principle make it a lot easier for a school system to devote more of its energy to rebuilding itself.”

A change in climate in Quincy was something that could not be dictated or legislated; it could come about only when there was a feeling among teachers that their needs and ideas were recognized as important, that their views would be listened to, that innovation and change could start at any point or level in the organization and that vehicles for true participation in the decision making process would be developed.

ES ’70 (Educational Systems for the Seventies) The current apex for involvement centers on the 1967 decision by  the Quincy Public Schools to accept the invitation of the U. S. Office of Education to become a charter member of the ES ’70 network. Over 400 educators, the entire secondary school staff, participated in that decision.

The invitation to join the network was innovative efforts in Projects ABLE and PLAN. Meaningful involvement in the decision to accept the invitation of the U. S. Office of Education was made possible by Quincy’s prior experience in Project Q-PED-COPED.

The process of involving 400 teachers in the decision to affiliate with ES ’70 necessitated the cancelling of classes for one whole day early in June, 1967 so that all affected by the decision could come together in a day long workshop and share in the decision making process.

Approval for the institute day was given by the School Committee. Arrangements for the workshop were made by the administration, the Quincy Education Association, and resource people from Boston University Human Relations Center and Lesley College.

Two weeks prior to the institute day each of the 400 secondary teachers received a copy of the ES ’70 network proposal.

The Quincy Education Association assumed responsibility for structuring the program for the day. The teachers were divided into 27 groups of 15. Each group was organized to give balance to junior and senior high school teachers as well as to the several academic disciplines and departments. The day opened with each group meeting in a separate room and discussing for two hours the project proposal. This was followed by a general assembly where all 400 teachers came together in a school auditorium and for two hours addressed questions to a panel of administrators and teachers who had participated in earlier talks with the U. S. Office of Education relative to ES ’70.

Following a leisurely lunch hour when discussion continued informally, the original 27 groups re-assembled in their separate meeting rooms and assessed the events of the morning, including the responses given to the questions asked the panel.

At the conclusion of the day each group polled itself and forwarded to the Quincy Education Association its reaction to the ES ’70 proposal. Over 90% of the 400 teachers participating recommended that the Quincy Public Schools accept the invitation of the U. S. Office of Education to affiliate with ES ’70.

Q-PED – COPED (Quincy Project in Educational Development- Cooperative Project in Educational Development- In all probability such in-depth involvement  in the decision to participate in ES -70 would neither have been considered nor risked if it had not been preceded by nearly two years of Q-PED – COPED activity in Quincy. In the fall of 1965 the Quincy Education Association, with the encouragement of the administration developed a position paper centered on the theme of establishing a climate for change in the school system through human relations training. The paper was presented to behavioral scientists at the Human Relations Center of Boston University. This group immediately recognized that the values and goals were very compatible with change strategies being suggested by Project COPED. Quincy University and Lesley College COPED activity. The Quincy effort came to be identified as Q-PED.

For the next three years Quincy educators engaged in extensive human relations training through Q-PED- COPED. The thrust of the effort was to establish a climate for change by building trust, opening up channels of communication, and involving teachers at all levels and, in some areas, students in the decision making process.

To date over 70% of the Quincy school’s 850 professional staff members have taken part in Q-PED activities ranging from one day in-service, released-time workshops to two five week summer dialogue sessions for teachers and students in one junior high school.

Among the most successful of these activities were several day long released-time institutes for groups of 50 teachers drawn from all grade levels as well as subject areas. Each day-long session was followed by a two day overnight educational retreat at which teachers and administrators faced their perceptions of each other and discussed common concerns, anxieties and aspirations.

All sessions were planned by a steering committee of teachers and administrator as well as human relations consultants from the Human Relations Center of Boston University and from Lesley College. Classroom teachers who participated in the sessions were invited by the Quincy Education Association and substitute teachers were hired by the school department.[3]

Funding for Q-PED has come from a variety of sources including the Quincy School Committee, the teachers association, the federal government, the Simons-Gutman Foundation of Temple Israel in Boston and the participants themselves.

After two years of Q-PED activity aimed at establishing a climate for change and several modest involvements in group and building level undertaking, the process was tried out for the first time on a large scale when all the secondary school teachers came together to consider and accept the ES ’70 invitation.

Q-SCSP (Quincy School Community Action Program) – In addition to being the vehicle for reaching the ES ’70 decision, Q-PED’s most ambitious undertaking to date has been a 14 month (including two summers) effort to establish a climate for change in one junior high school. Until two years ago, decision making in the school was centralized (as is the case in most schools) in the administration. Now, there is a great deal of teacher, student and, most recently, community participation in decision making.

Encouraged by a principal with nearly 20 years experience, and supported by federal funds, 20 teachers and 45 students worked together under their own leadership for five weeks during the summer of 1968 in an effort to establish a climate for change that would allow the consideration of a more relevant curriculum for the entire student body as well as a broader base for decision making. The project caught the enthusiasm of teachers and students, and during the 1968-1969 school year both groups worked at opening up lines of communications between the faculty of 50 teachers and student body of 800.

The past year has seen a great deal of faculty and student-participation in decision making. Enthusiasm and involvements has run so high that teachers, independent of the administration, prepared a proposal for federal assistance in order to keep the effort alive. As a result a second summer session was funded for 1969.

DEEP (Developing Economic Education Principles) Prior to Q-PED, decision making in Quincy followed more traditional lines. The decision to accept the 1965 invitation of the Joint Council on Economic Affairs to affiliate with Project DEEP is in sharp contrast to the ES ’70 procedure and other post Q-PED decisions.

As with ES ’70 the invitation to affiliate with DEEP was made to the Superintendent, the same Superintendent. Unlike the procedure followed three years later in ES 70, only a handful of senior advisors were involved in deciding that the system would become involved in DEEP. However, since the first and critical decision was made by a limited few, the process of making decisions concerning DEEP has broadened to include all the teachers in the four elementary schools where DEEP materials are being introduced. Two afternoon released time workshops each month are attended by all teachers participating in DEEP are made. While few of those affected by DEEP were involved in the original  decision to go ahead with the project, that has been corrected  to the point where the decisions for the implementation of the effort and for future expansion rests with those who are to be affected.

ABLE – Project ABLE is another example of a project closely identified with ES ’70. It began prior to Q-PED but is still in the developmental stage. In 1964 a small committee of senior administrators served as advisors to the Superintendent and shared in the development of ABLE. Today the same Superintendent would not follow that procedure. Critical decisions in ABLE are now made with involvement of all teachers who are responsible for implementation. For example, in the summer of 1967 a two week workshop was planned for all teachers who were to teach in Project ABLE during the 1967-1968 school year. Two month before the two week workshop was held, the 3 teachers who were scheduled to participate in the workshop spent a two-day overnight Q-PED session developing the syllabus for the two week summer institute.

Since 1965 Quincy educator have been experimenting with decentralizing the decision making process. As stated earlier this new participative involvement is still in the embryonic stage. Since the spring of 1968, the emphasis has been on a more structured systems approach to decision making that is consistent with and can reinforce the basic assumption that all those who are affected by a decision should share in making the decision.

Team Structure- In continuing the process of molding a creative organizational character there is a new kind of resource mobilization for the attainment of goals. A four dimensional team structure has been developed that in design involves all members of the professional staff in decision making.

The teams are:

(1) Superintendency,

(2) Learning Management,

(3) Curriculum Team

(4) Expanded Curriculum.

The Superintendency Team includes the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendents for Instruction, Vocational-Technical, Personnel, and Plant, the President of Quincy Junior College and the Administrative Assistant for Business Affairs.

The Learning Management Team (LMT) consists of the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendents for Instruction, and Vocational-Technical, the Elementary and Secondary School Coordinator, and the Director of Pupil Personnel Services.

The Curriculum Team (CT) includes the Assistant Superintendents for Instruction, and Vocational-Technical Education plus all the system-wide directors and coordinators in math, science, language-arts, social studies, music, art-humanities, physical education, athletics, pupil personnel, and research.

The Expanded Curriculum Team (ECT) has no permanent structure and no permanent members. Several Expanded Curriculum Teams can and do exist at any given time. An ECT is a task force brought into being to consider a problem or a proposal that has arisen. It includes representatives from all those who are to be affected by the decision, including students, custodians, teachers, and administrators. An ECT can be organized around a concern that is limited to grade level, department, or subject area; or it can focus on a topic that is of concern to a building faculty or the entire system.  There is no issue, or topic that is excluded as not being pertinent or within the province of an ECT to consider. Any member of the educational community can suggest an issue or a concern that might call for the organization of an ECT. However, in itself and ECT is not a decision making body, but rather makes recommendations to the Curriculum Team. Its existence is a kind of barometer about issues and serves to make the system responsive to needs.

The Curriculum Team has as a primary task the responsibility of receiving from any source all proposals or recommendations that could have a system-wide influence. In addition, the Curriculum Team is charged with the responsibility of integrating learning experiences and adequately individualizing the teaching-learning process. Individual members of the CT are responsible for assuring relevancy within the instructional program of their discipline.

The Learning Management Team serves as the systems analysis component of the school department. It is responsible for identifying the many segments of the system and for maintaining a systems approach to organization, research and development, and implementation of the instructional program. The LMT is responsible for seeing that instructional practices and the teaching-learning process at all levels is consistent with contemporary learning theory. In addition, the LMT contributes to the development of the budget and serves as a weekly briefing group to the Superintendent.

For the most part critical decisions affecting the educational program of the system are made at the LMT level on recommendation forwarded through an ECT or the CT.

The Superintendency Team has few responsibilities assigned to it as a group. Individual members of the ST function as appropriate and according to task, at any one of the other three levels. In a recent six month period the ST met only once as a unit on a task and that was to screen candidates and make a recommendation on a new Assistant Superintendent for Instruction.

The fact that the ST does not meet regularly and is not the focal point of decision making does not reflect abdication of responsibility. Rather, it is indicative of an effort to decentralize decision making consistent with good systems practice. Members of the Superintendency Team still carry the responsibility for decisions made or not made within their area of competence; however, the structural changes in the process permit participative decision making at other levels.

This Quincy case study describes an evolving organizational development program in a human system which has been moving from a centralized, traditional hierarchy to a more dynamic, self-renewing, decentralized structure in six years. The change process has been traced by looking at major program events in terms of how decisions were made. Pas t administrative practices and leadership style shifted to collaborative transactions including all levels. Major emphasis was on building a new collaborative organizational climate. These newly emergent values necessarily cut across organizational structure, policies, and work methods. The objective is to develop trust, openness, and joint decision making.

The major input for these new practices, norms, attitudes and values came from the training and consultation programs with the COPED applied behavioral science approach.

Lawrence P. Creedon, Superintendent of Schools, Quincy

Miriam C. Ritvo, Boston University Human Relations Center

Written Early 1970s

Creedon Note October 10 2010

As far as I can determine there is nothing left of any of this and has not been for decades. The participation/involvement process decayed to abandonment after I left as superintendent of schools in 1984. A significant study would be why? Why did nothing take root, survive?

[1] Lawrence P. Creedon is Superintendent of Quincy Public Schools, Quincy, Massachusetts.

Miriam C. Ritvo is located at Boston University, Human Relations Center, Boston, Massachusetts.

Seidenber, R. Post Historic Man. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981.

Mooney, J. D. & Relley, A.C. Onward Industry. New York: Harper & Bros. 1931.

Scott, S.G. Organization Theory: an overview and an appraisal. Journal of the Academy of Management 1961, 4, 7-27

Bennis, W. G. Beyond Bureaucracy. Trans-action. 1965, 3, 31-5.

[2] Zajonc, R. B. Social facilitation. Science. 1965. 149, 269-274

Miles, M.B. The development of innovative climates in iducational organizations. Stanford Research Institute Research Note EPRC – 6747-11. 1969

ES ’70 is a network of 18 school systems from 14 states. The purpose of the network is to implement the results of educational research in order (1)  to make learning experiances relevant to the needs of the time, (2) to adapt programs of instructions so as to be responsive to what is known about learning styles of young people, (3)  to make sophisticated use of media and technology, and (4) to provide ongoing opportunities for inservice training.

Project ABLE is a joint effort of the Quincy Public  Schools and the American Institutes for the secondary level for non-college-bounds, young people.

Project PLAN is a joint effort of the Quincy Public Schools and the American Institutes for Research and 13 other school systems to develop and individualized program of instruction in grades 1-2. The computer is used as a managerial tool. PLAN is funded by the Westinghouse Learning Corporation.

[3] Project DEEP is a joint effort of the Quincy Public Schools and the Joint Council on Economic Education and forty other school systems aimed at integrating economic education at all grade levels.

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