I have been working at Lycee Francais De Chicago as a contractor
Competitive salaries compared to local private schools.
The Lycee is currently undergoing a deep crisis. For an external observer, the drifts described everywhere can appear outrageous, exaggerated, in contradiction with the image that the school has been applying itself for so many years. Yet they are indisputable, as is the real feeling of exasperation of a growing part of the staff. It is therefore legitimate to ask: how is this possible? These drifts are the result of long-standing managerial choices made at the highest levels of the administration and are explained by the absence of counter-powers and self-regulation or control mechanisms. They can also be explained by the fact that customary practices have always existed at the limit of legality and ethics - when they are not entirely out of scope. It is not rocket science that these practices are reinforced by geographical distance, but also by the oddity that there is a sort of 'French exception' exonerating leaders and managers from the common obligations. The brutality with which the new administration has imprinted its brand has reinforced the unbearable paradox that employees must be benevolent and excellent to students and parents when the administration can humiliate, castigate, corrupt and fail. It explains why tongues are finally starting to loosen – I imagine that everything has probably not yet been disclosed, why many employees now make the choice of departure, and why it is the responsibility of the school to quickly make its aggiornamento, under penalty of losing all credit and seeing its image permanently deteriorated. In 2015 the board of trustees had a historic opportunity to turn the page of the discretionary and crypto-mafia practices of the former administration by choosing an ethical president, respectful of rules and people. It is clear from the past two years that the opportunity has been missed. Worse still, the current principal is at the center of an indisputable conflict of interest, and those who have the presumption to point out to him, whether they are staff members or parents of students, are rebuffed and even threatened. Below is a short diagnosis based on my observations and what people are saying. The school maintains the illusion of a ‘spirit of community’ by organizing events involving students, parents and employees. The extraction of information in these informal settings is thus fairly easy. The current principal’s style of leadership is what we call ‘exploitative autocratic’, as he imposes decisions, motivates by intimidation, threat, fear and punishment to get tasks accomplished, gives little praise or reward, and has little communication and teamwork. In this system, there is no participation of employees in the decision-making process because the leader has a very low level of confidence in them. Employees do not feel all free to discuss issues about their job. The leader seldom gets ideas and opinions of subordinates in solving problems since he treats them as subservient. A ‘vision’ illuminates him and that’s enough! The problem with this form of managerial monarchism is that it is not easy to reform insofar as it proliferates in many organizations and institutions. The weakness or even the absence of counter-powers and a culture of hierarchy maintain the lack of accountability of such leaders and the drifts. Even when written rules exist, they are difficult to impose on discretionary and customary practices, which are as one suspects the hardest to undo. The difficulty is that this culture is deeply rooted among French managers with responsibilities in foreign countries, far from the control of the home country - I do not want to blame the French school network, but I have already observed the same operational methods in another school. The art of transaction and sometimes outright circumvention of rules is the DNA of these managers who are incredibly resistant to change. A leopard can’t change its spots.
Advice to Management
I will add that we have the right to ask ourselves how autocratic systems of which the Lycee is a striking example can maintain, even reinforce in time their power of coercion and control over employees? The reason is administrative: the only form of control that exists is that of pedagogical compliance carried out by the Ministry of Education. Nothing very restrictive then. The principal is accountable to the board of trustees, but the welfare of the staff is the least of its concerns. One can also wonder how the administration manages to maintain social peace? The answer is simple: the school has a nuclear deterrent that is the non-automatic renewal of annual work contracts. This highly unbalanced contractual relationship, which benefits only the employer, explains why employees are held in a form of voluntary servitude. In the absence of safeguards, there is a great temptation to treat employees as mere revocable objects. Because the school is geographically distant from the home country and its supervisory bodies, self-regulation is the only option and it must be as strict as possible. For the Lycee to function equitably and for confidence to be restored, not to say rehabilitated, the rule must be even harder and more rigorous than anywhere else. But above all, it is necessary to turn the page once and for all. Finally, it should be remembered that in any organization, only fairness and probity generate trust, a genuinely positive working climate!
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