How Steep the Cost of Transparency in Leadership?

It’s a pretty quiet day in the office when there’s a snow day. When I started this work over a decade ago, I received a phone call from our local veterinarian, Dr. Inkley, on such a day. My snow day call probably wasn’t 100% necessary–that’s how those calls go sometimes.Weather can be fickle. Dr. Inkley said,

Kim, when you close school and it’s not needed, I lose all of my employees for the day. Most of them are working moms who then have to take the day off to care for their kids. Please keep that in mind when you make the call.

I’ve had John’s words in my mind for every snow day call since. No, I’m certainly not going to have school if we shouldn’t but there isn’t always a clear cut answer. I understand that my decision to cancel school has to be about student safety first and foremost. There are other consequences to the decision. In every district there are children who are safer, warmer, and yes, better fed, at school than at home. Time off from school is a stressful event for those children. Calling a snow day means 4 am calls to the transportation supervisor who’s calling all nine of our highway superintendents to seek their input, studying the weather forecasts and talking to colleagues in other districts. It’s not as simple as it seems.

On Thursday, February 27, 2020, I called a snow day. Then I easily drove to and from the school through one portion of our large 161 square mile district. I was thinking about all of these things and I posted a tweet. Then the internet, and my life, blew up for about 12 hours.

My tweet: “Where, exactly, did this blizzard hit? Because I’m really regretting my decision to close schools. When the NWS and the news talk blizzard and huge snowfall, I can’t ignore that. I’m sorry to every working parent who had to take off a day from work for childcare.”

IF you know me, you know that I often post questions, use ThoughtExchange, and ask our school community for feedback. I genuinely felt regret that my decision, which from my drive through one part of our district seemed unnecessary, may have inconvenienced our families. If, for one moment, readers could read the tweet without whatever attitude they may have inferred on Thursday, they perhaps would just read it as it is. I wanted to know where the snow hit. What I expected from the tweet and what I got were two very different things.

A few students did tell me about the weather at their homes. But what ensued after this tweet was so disproportionate that I’m still astonished by it. Quickly I had a request from the Buffalo News and Channel 2 for an interview which I did via phone. People then started contacting me via direct message on Twitter, which is not something I use regularly, nor do I use Facebook messenger. I’m available and accountable to our district residents and families through email, telephone calls, and in person meetings. I then received a message and took a call from a Channel 7 reporter who told me she was passing me to her colleague. I said, “great, please give her my number.”

I could see my phone blowing up. I was doing something else and could not attend to it.  I briefly changed my Twitter account to private because I was alarmed that my profile and background pictures included my grandson and they were being shared in really negative ways, on the news, and in retweets. I was mortified that his beautiful face was being shared far and wide. Over 100 new people, many without any Twitter profile of substance, started following me. I went into a meeting and was unable to tend to the calls/messages/tweets for two hours.

At some point a reporter at Channel 7, who I’m guessing had a sense of urgency for a story, sent her own tweet,

Interesting. It looks like @kimberlymoritz chose to speak with only certain media outlets today before setting her account to private and ignoring our calls after she said she would do a phone interview with me.

The hatred, judgment and condemnation that were directed at me via tweets, direct messaging, emails and phone calls were unbelievable. People called for my termination. Our BOE president received an email directly calling for that termination. I was called a MORON, an IDIOT, a poor leader, horrible, suggestions of drinking on the job, and asked if I have kids. There were hundreds of comments and retweets. It seemed everyone had something to say.

It was awful. I kept thinking, “all of the work that I’ve done over a 30 year career, the programs I’ve started, the support I’ve given to employees and other leaders, the countless decisions I’ve made on behalf of our students and families, the love that I’ve shown, and my professional reputation is reduced to this?”

Over one tweet? People far and wide decided to extrapolate, infer, imagine or make up all sorts of things about that one tweet. I wrote it so I know what I was thinking and intending.  I was leading as I have for 20 years, from a place of honesty and transparency. I was self reflecting and taking responsibility for what may have been a poor decision on my part.

What did these people, who don’t know me or my work, get out of this? They had to take the time to comment in vicious ways. And this isn’t just me–this is happening to leaders in every aspect of our society and to, really, anyone who puts themselves out there at all. I’m asking what the HATERS (as one student called them) get out of it? And what is our response? Should I have responded to, argued with, or defended myself on every comment? Who has the mental energy or time for that? A few people who do know me entered the fray and quickly became exasperated by it.

No one wants to bring on a media maelstrom. However I’m glad that it happened to me and not to a member of our administrative team. I’m grateful for the countless positive, supportive messages, texts, emails and tweets supporting me.

I would have been really hurt about this earlier in my career where now I just feel concerned about where we are in the world that anyone can use social media to yell horrible things at anyone else. I’m worried about the personal attacks. I’m wondering what happened to appropriate civil discourse.

We had our Erie 2 BOCES school superintendents meeting yesterday. A colleague said the most important thing of this whole event to me:

Imagine what our kids feel like when they’re attacked on social media like this.

I believe in public accountability, especially for public employees. I have a responsibility to our students, families and taxpayers. This public scrutiny and disparagement is something altogether beyond that and it leaves me wondering.

What does this mean for our future? Who among us will want to step up, to take a risk, to be courageous as they face this kind of scrutiny? Who will want to lead? 

  1. Well written, Kim. You made the decision you thought best for your students and staff. Thank you for handling this with class, it’s something the “Haters”, and everyone, can learn from.

    Jill Finkley, former colleague at Pine Valley and current supporter.

  2. I worry for our children and social media…definitely a good point about how it makes them feel. So sorry you had to endure the negativity this created.

  3. Continue to do what you do best—lead with the best interest of your students and staff as your focal point. It takes a tremendously strong administrator to handle the situations you must and remain professional in the face of a negative public. This too shall pass. Donna Snyder (proud, retired, Pine Valley employee).

  4. Your tweet would have been fine if you didn’t include the words “regretting to close schools” that’s what set them off.
    You made the right call. Some parts of the district and some back roads had whiteout conditions at 6:30/7am while buses would have been on those roads. Many of these roads aren’t even plowed by 7am with regular snow fall.
    I work from home it effects us just as much as the next parent who struggles to find childcare. But I still feel you made the right call for Thursday and Friday.

    Mom of 4

  5. There are no words. Just the empathy and understanding of those who’ve been there. Peace.

  6. Parents might have to miss a day of work but the safety of a child is more important.Teachers and schools are not babysitters or day care.

  7. I have 2 children in the SGI school district and I can say that I 100% appreciate that keeping our children safe is your #1 priority. There are trolls EVERYWHERE and you didn’t deserve to be treated that way….. Shame on those who acted so immature! Thank you for all of your hard work!

  8. This response to the social media/media reaction to your tweet is exactly the type of response we all need to see. Perspective sharing and perspective taking are truly meaningful tools that allow us to better understand each other, our challenges, our motivations and our intentions. Thank you for this courageous unveiling. Very grateful for authentic, brave leaders like you!

  9. This is a very heartfelt and honest response which reflects how you lead on a daily basis. Your decisions have the best interest of your staff, students and families. I too, am proud to be a member of your team.

  10. Thank you for handling this with the grace you always show. Every decision you make has “what’s best for the kids” as the basis for the decision. This is the reason your staff stands with you – Wall want what is best for the kids. Proud to be a part of your team.

  11. Kim,
    It take a thick skin and nice smile to make everyone happy all the time. We will all forget in a couple weeks so stay strong we all think your doing a great job.
    Let some folks have their say and release their steam. It’s probably a way for them to cope. All will be forgotten once we get another sunny day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *