Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Case Study Analysis: The Case of Secretary versus Principal or The Recalcitrant Secretary


This paper will analyze the case study “The Case of Secretary versus Principal or The Recalcitrant Secretary” which was written by Angus MacNeil and Richard Fossey of the University of Houston. It will take a perspective from the angle of one of the sides in the situation, define the problem presented in the case study, indicate what information is missing that would be helpful in making a decision, it will propose and analyze several possible solutions including possible consequences, select a preferred solution, propose a plan for implementation, and conclude with ideas for evaluating the decision.


For this case study, I will take the perspective of Jo Hart. I had been a very successful secretary at Kingsville High School for the last twenty years. Recently, I accepted a transfer to a comparable job in the district at another school

Problem Definition

Until the arrival of Alex Cochrane as the new Principal at Kingsville High School, I had significant responsibilities at the school. I had been empowered by the previous Principal to take on many tasks including making class schedules, timetables, and assigning teachers to classes. I had a reputation as a take-charge person who got her tasks done.

Further, I had helped to correct many of the abuses that the district administration had heaped upon the clerical staff in the district. I successfully lobbied for the formation of a clerical union which helped us to win a court battle over pay equity. In gratitude, my colleagues voted me President of the Secretaries Union. This clearly shows that in addition to the support I had from the previous school administration, I had the support of my colleagues in the clerical staff.

Unfortunately, the new Principal caused problems. While he had been hired to fix the school, he came in and promptly started breaking things. He insisted on an unnecessary upgrade to the scheduling software which was working fine before his arrival. He ignored my well founded advice on how to fix the school by empowering many of the deadwood teachers who I had told him should probably be removed from the school. Further, it became clear that he had altered my schedule so that I would not get to work with him much. This created an obstacle for us to perhaps resolve our differences through communication.

Tragically, despite the mess that Principal Cochrane made of the school, he was quickly acclaimed as a success story. What the Principal cited as success by empowering teachers was in fact evidence of how he misused his power by assigning it to teachers. Sure the teachers were happy. The deadwood teachers loved him because he let them do whatever they wanted! Principal Cochrane was slick when it came to PR and he widely publicized his “success” at getting local businesses more involved with the school. Many in the district also gave him unfair credit for helping to improve the records of the athletic teams. It is not like he scored any points himself.

The problem as I see it is that Principal Cochrane is going to get away with what he has done. He has created a ton of problems and has disrupted the successful main office operation which I had worked my entire career to establish. I did my best to inform people of the truth but I fear that Principal Cochrane cited that as evidence that I was creating strife in the school. He is the one that created the strife! The Superintendent took an interest in moving me from the high school to another school. Now that I am no longer at the high school, my influence is all but gone and it is going to be very difficult for me to convince people how poorly that Alex Cochrane has done his job as Principal and it may be impossible for me to ever get back to Kingsville High School and fix the mess he has created.

In retrospect, I wonder if the reason that Principal Cochrane was transferred to Kingsville High School was to punish me. I had been very successful at organizing the Secretaries Union and we had won a court battle against the Superintendent. Shortly after this, Principal Cochrane arrived and started undercutting my influence. Now I am no longer in the job in which I had been so successful. This whole scenario may have been engineered in an attempt to undercut the Secretaries Union.

Missing Information

There are several pieces of information that I would like to know. To start, I want to know why I agreed to accept the transfer to another school. Why did I voluntarily agree to leave? Was I threatened? Did I get a sweet deal?

Further, what are the terms of the transfer? Did I agree to not file any grievances or lawsuits against the district in relation to how badly I was treated by Principal Cochrane? What agreements have I made which may hinder my ability to solve the problem of Principal Cochrane?

In addition, I want to know more about Principal Cochrane’s last stint as Principal at another high school in the district. He was seen as running a model school before coming to Kingsville High. However, did he use the same tactics he is using at Kingsville now? If so, his reputation has been built with puffery, PR, and an abdication of his authority to teachers. It is undeserved. If this is the case, are there others out there who have seen through his charade who might help me build a case against him?

Possible Solutions (and Consequences)
I really believe that I have only two options for this problem. I can accept it as it is and finish out my career quietly. Or, I can use my influence in the Secretaries Union to harass Principal Cochrane and find other ways to undermine him. If I work hard enough, it is even possible that the second tactic may result in me reclaiming my prior job at Kingsville High School.

The first solution has attractions for me. As much as I feel I have been wronged, I have had a long (20+ years) and successful career working in the district. I garnered the respect of my colleagues and the previous school administration. I made the school a better place. As I get older, I am moving closer to retirement and it might not be worth fighting any longer. I am in a new school now and if I work hard perhaps I can use my expertise to improve the functioning of the main office there.

However, I am not sure I can accept that approach. I may be the only person who can make sure that Principal Cochrane is held responsible for his actions. If I do nothing, he will be allowed to continue to damage Kingsville High School and may even be promoted to being the Superintendent within the district or elsewhere.

The second option is for me to use my position as President of the Secretaries Union to keep the pressure on Principal Cochrane. As a union, we can monitor his performance and file grievances (and potentially lawsuits) every time he does anything that could be construed as a violation of our contract. Each and every one of these events (even if we do not win) can be used to bring attention to questionable decisions that the man has made. At the same time, I can personally talk with people in the schools and the local community to continue to let them know about how poorly Kingsville High School is being lead to counter the belief that Principal Cochrane is doing a good job.

There are consequences to this plan as well. There is a good possibility that my plan could fail. In the meantime, I could severely damage the reputation and effectiveness of the Secretaries Union. If the union is seen as merely being a vehicle for my personal war, it will lose standing with the administration and the local community. Further, if I am unsuccessful, it may lead people to believe that I am ineffective and utterly irrelevant. I don’t know if I could stomach that.

Preferred Solution

I am going to go with the second option. Although I know I might not be successful, I feel I owe it to the community to ultimately expose and remove Principal Cochrane. I just don’t think I can sit around and end my career quietly on this. If I fight hard, maybe I can return Kingsville High School to the state it was in when I was there prior to when Principal Cochrane arrived. I might even be able to help get rid of some of the deadwood teachers.

Implementation Plan

I will begin this plan be addressing the grievance process for union members at the next meeting of the Secretaries Union. I will encourage members to watch for a variety of possible contract violations with the reminder that if there is any doubt about an issue that they should contact me for guidance. I will also review with the members the steps that are gone through when the lengthy appeals process is invoked.

Later, I will meet with the clerical staff from Kingsville High School. I will inform them that Principal Cochrane is being watched closely for a variety of reasons. I will “strongly” encourage every member to watch him and his fellow administrators for possible problems. In particular, I will ask them to look for problems which could be grieved dealing with teacher autonomy and the impact of that on secretaries, outside business interfering in school matters, and the how the Principal communicates in issues dealing with the clerical staff.

Any problem which can be grieved will be acted upon. The union will go as slow as possible and drag the process out. We will attempt to bring in as many people into the procedures as possible. The entire process will be used to shed a negative light on the Principal and his administration. If any errors are made in the process by the district, a law suit will promptly be filed and publicity will be sought from the local press.

In addition, I will use every opportunity to let other people know what is really going on in the high school. I will talk at my new school, at home, at church, and at community events about events at the school and how I was treated unfairly. I will also attend as many Kingsville High School athletic events as possible being sure to talk about Principal Cochrane with spectators.

If enough grievances or lawsuits are filed, it will give me an excuse to attend a school board meeting and ask why such a situation is being allowed. I will be able to document and show the increase in grievances under Cochrane’s management in the school and ask the board how they plan on improving the situation. Ideally, I will be able to bring in community members who can express their concern at the direction the school has taken.

If I manage to make Principal Cochrane look bad by filling multiple drawn out grievances and by damaging his reputation in public, then that progress may ultimately result in his resignation or dismissal. If I play my cards right, someday I may get my old job and powers back. The problem will have been solved and I will have helped the district out in a big way.


This plan succeeds or fails based on whether Principal Cochrane is removed or leaves his job at Kingsville High without being promoted. Here are some results which might indicate progress or success:

1. A significant number of grievances are filled against Principal Cochrane. Regardless of the success of the grievances, the amount of time and people involved make him look bad.

2. One or more grievances are handled improperly or have a result which allows for legal action. Again, the time and district staff tied up in resolving this helps to make Principal Cochrane look bad.

3. Feedback from community members causes district leaders such as school board members and the Superintendent to reconsider their positive impression on Principal Cochrane.

4. The end result is successful if Cochrane leaves the district or is demoted.

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