While working for the New Jersey Department of Education, I consistently struggled with a basic problem. My organization wasn’t designed to do the things that our leadership team prioritized.
The converse was also true: The things that the organization was designed to do weren’t at the top of our list.
This second point was particularly troublesome, because those things—like sending teams out to do monitoring visits or pestering districts to send in reports—were required by federal laws.
We did our very best to deal with the hand we were dealt. We reorganized the department, made clear what our goals were, and repurposed funding and positions (to the extent permitted).
I think this is what responsible leaders of public-sector organizations do: They don’t bellyache about the problems and constrains of government agencies—they deal with them.
Throughout my career, I’ve bounced between the nonprofit and public sectors. I read, think, and write about issues for a while, and then I go into the system and spend whatever intellectual capital I’ve accumulated. Because of the “writing” part of this formula, I generally enter government service with a bit of, shall we say, baggage.
For example, there was (to be diplomatic) some concern that I had written extensively about the bad-ideaness of massive school-turnaround efforts and then, in my official capacity as state deputy education commissioner, had a hand in our state’s SIG grant.
I never saw a problem with this. My view was simple: When I work for the government, I deal...