Dallas not sleeping during a snowstorm - 2001-ish

Dallas not sleeping during a snowstorm – 2001-ish

Overtime has always been kind of a hot topic in the architecture world.  Over my (erch) 17 year career, I have worked three places that paid overtime – two big firms, which just paid straight time; and one which paid time and a half.  That latter one ended up folding.  I did, however, buy my first road bike, a 1999 Cannondale R300, exclusively with overtime money.

It seems from my personal experience that most firms call all of their employees “decision makers,” and therefore pay them a salary.  That is all.  There is some consensus that an employee should be paid overtime as an intern, meaning that once you are registered, you are no longer eligible (however supposedly one would be paid more).

So this article in Entrepreneur Magazine caught my eye this morning.  It talked about how a new move in Washington would force more people to be paid overtime.  This, according to Entrepreneur, would stifle new entrepreneurs, and would in effect make employers restrict employee’s hours.  So, that employee who wants to put forth the extra effort won’t be allowed to… which not only stifles upward mobility, but also innovation.

Because everything stifles innovation.

Anyway, the first thought I had was: wow, this could have serious ramifications on our industry!  On my old bosses, on startups, on me!  Oh no!  And if everyone got paid time and a half as an intern, who on earth would want to become a registered architect?  The marketplace already shows that there is, if any, a negligible bump in compensation once someone becomes a registered architect.  This would, in fact, keep people from progressing in their careers!

Then, I started to think about my experience.  The architecture industry in particular has always reveled in working a ridiculous amount of hours.  It is a badge of honor.  From reading The Fountainhead to overnighters in studio to the workplace, putting in the hours has been what was most important.  I worked for a group who particularly pushed such a mantra: if you’re not here working at 8:00 PM and later every night, you are not working hard enough.

That is where I worked when I decided to start going back to school (they had known this when I signed on).  I had tons of papers to write, and I had definite cutoffs on some days when I had to go to class.  Class was at 6:00PM which means (gasp) I had to leave AT FIVE O’CLOCK.

I still had to get my stuff done.  I was at a (then) startup company, and had already worked many nights into the 2:00AM range.  I couldn’t do it anymore.  There are only 24 hours in each day that we all have, and I had made the commitment to myself that I was going to get a degree.

So something quite odd happened.  After only 6 months or so of this (leaving on time, having to seriously cut back my hours, etc.), I was approached by a partner.  He took me aside and said: “we’ve all been noticing you’ve been stepping it up lately.”  I suppose I had been.  I was figuring out how to do my work much more efficiently because I literally did not have the time to do it, and I was actually getting better in the process.  I was actually making an impression by forcing myself to work less hours.

I hate the cliché work smarter not harder, but there is some truth in it to me: its not the number of hours you put into a job, but simply what your output is.  Sometimes we all have to work late.  However, I like to say that if someone can’t get their work done within a reasonable amount of hours in the day, it is because of either:

  • Poor individual time management (who is writing a blog post at 9:40 this morning?  Yes I will be working late today)
  • Poor management (how long sir, have you been sitting on this, until you finally gave it to me to do?); or
  • unreasonable expectations by a client, or some other outside uncontrollable force.

Everybody makes mistakes, that’s OK and normal, and sometimes you have to work late.  But it shouldn’t be a badge of honor and it should most certainly not be a business model.  If the real response to this new legislation really is to cut back hours, I would challenge business owners and overzealous employees to get more out of the time you have.  And those who want to work long hours to excel?  Do it on your own time if you think it is THAT important.  Hours can be important, especially when starting out – because there are things that will take a young person four hours to do that a senior person can do in twenty minutes (in theory, that is why senior people get paid more.  In theory).  I see that as an investment in yourself, but the rest of your life also needs some time!  For instance, at my last “real job,” I was working alone on the weekends in the office – because I chose to go to the gym in the middle of the day, cutting down my usable hours in the week.  I feel like no one can keep someone from working; however, I don’t think sheer hours of work is what should get you ahead – it is the quality and quantity of your output.


From the outside looking in: DISD

I have never met someone who does not hold the belief that education and success are directly related to each other.  Take that a step further: an educated population is successful… Therefore grows in sustainable ways, nurtures, and takes care of itself.  The largest surges of progress in mankind have been the products of a new level of education for the population.  You would think, in that context, that education of the population would be a priority as a civilization.

Last week I had the opportunity to take a look at the Dallas public education system.  As far as quality of life goes, the biggest problem with Dallas itself is the school system.  Around here, if one has a choice, I see typically people do one of two things: move to the suburbs or choose private school (or both).

Issues with the school district seem vey amorphous. The city government has no bearing on the school districts (however, in this afternoon’s city council meeting, they proved they have reaching arms in zoning and other secondary means); the district receives funding from all levels of government, but remains pretty much autonomous.  Term “Independent School District” really is true.  The leadership is made up of elected officials called trustees.  Each of those trustees manages a number of schools based on their district.  Other than meeting set levels by the state, that’s pretty much it on the oversight of the school district.  I’m oversimplifying, but that’s not the point of this post anyway.

We saw two schools of the extreme opposite, but two that are headed in the right direction.  One extreme was an urban school with strong leadership.  The principal had made numerous changes that would be simple in the private world: identify a problem (soda and candy machines causing problems in the hallway), and fix it (remove them!). This practice filters down to the staffing of the school – she kept only the better teachers, weeding out the ineffective ones.  The result?  Grades are up.  Test scores are up.  Morale is up.  The students like being there – in fact, they treat the school as a safe haven for what goes on around them.  The district gives the principal so much control over a school that they have the ability to make a real difference.  That’s great – when you have a great principal.

The other school we visited was an elementary school nestled in a more upscale area of Dallas.  This school is nationally recognized and has made a huge turn around in the past five years under the direction of their principal.

Click on the image for some interesting statistics.

The main difference between the schools was this – the elementary school had great support of the parents.  The leadership of their PTA actually came to talk to us!  Again and again, the point was proven that the school did well because of the parental support.  Budget gaps were being mitigated through parent volunteers, needs were met by reaching out to parents through email and social media, and the group in front of us were dedicated to the education of their children, which showed in the pride of their school.  The high school, on the other hand, was turning around despite the lack of support of the parents.  During the principal’s presentation there, she made no mention of parents (other than the fact that many of her students were being raised by grandparents).  As a matter of fact, she repeated the point that the school was a “safe haven” for the kids.  You could tell by her demeanor she was doing a lot more heavy lifting than the elementary school leadership.

A trustee member came and spoke to us as well; I had met her a few years earlier when she had applied for a grant for a summer school program she leads.  She drove the parent support factor home to me during that first interview.  She told me a few stories of how clueless the parents were about how to simply behave around their kids, much less support them In school.  One story that stuck in my mind was her having to tell parents, as they were dropping off their kids to a summer program – “hey!  Don’t smoke weed in front of your kid!”.   Quite a big contrast from the PTA group we met at the elementary school.

Click for notes on the search for a new superintendent (also source).

The trustee discussed some of these issues from her side of things.  Unfortunately, her primary issues revolved around budgets.  Again she would circle back to the kids, and her main task at hand was dealing with a dwindling population (people are fleeing the school district for the ‘burbs), heavy overhead, lower local tax revenue and lower support from the state and federal levels.  This will involve closing schools in certain areas of Dallas, which unfortunately makes sense – the population of south Dallas has dwindled 5% in as many years. She said the district had done it before, and maintained the schools until the population rebounds.  However, huge emotional issues arise with mothballing schools, and the district is running into public pushback for such actions.  However, even by saving $10 Million per year closing these schools (the cost of each child in a low population school rises exponentially), they are still dealing with a $30 Million shortfall all while trying to maintain their current programs and services.  They are still quite far from closing that gap.

We touched on bilingual education as well.  Apparently, the state gives more funding per student for a bilingual education; however this education does not prepare kids for college at all.  In an entrance survey, a parent has to check a box for their “home language.” if that box is checked anything but English, off they go onto a different track, one the school is incentivized to use since the state provides so much more funding.  However, the trustee brought up a great point: the SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT…  they’re in English. Putting children down a non-English path does simply not prepare the child for college.

The school district is supposed to do something that seems fairly obvious: focus on the child.  Recently DISD has made many changes that are apparently considered “anti-teacher” but seem fairly obvious to me, such as trying to change compensation from seniority (how long have you been there) to performance (how well are your children doing).  That seems, from the private world, fairly obvious.  That sounds harsh, and I’m sure there is a valid opposite argument… but that is what many people from the outside see.  The trustee gave an example of a confrontation she had with someone when a teacher was released.  She turned to the fellow teacher and asked; “do you want her teaching YOUR child?” the other teacher went silent.  This rift sounds so conflicting to me: apparently pro-child means anti-teacher.  I don’t get it.  It seems like we should all be headed in the same direction.

The district has many amazing programs: the magnet schools, the prototype schools, new ways of teaching teachers, and charter schools.  They have some amazing stuff going on, and yet mostly we hear about the negative.  Look at this post!  Perhaps eventually I will talk about the positives.  One has to dog to find that, and I have just scratched the surface.  That, and recent events in my life keep my mood down.

What does the high school principal want?  More teachers.  She has only one teacher for several subjects that cover entire grades – she says that is very dangerous.  However, there’s no money for it.  What can up I do to help your school?  An easy thing would be to buy the class a set of books – a paperback novel for them to study.  What a great gift.  Contrasting that, the elementary school said to get on Facebook and see where you could volunteer…  They seemed to be doing so well.  The high school principal, on the other hand, was a proud, proven, success story who carried some battle scars.  As she talked about teachers you could see passion in her eyes, but a resigned sadness as well.  When someone asked if she saw any relief in sight, she sighed, met his eyes, and said “no, sir.  No I do not.”

So much to carry on about, but this post has gone too long for one.  Until next time.