Although teachers and parents at Memorial reported that the general sentiment was that Mr. Atencio "thrusted" the Family Plan" down our throats", five years later these same individuals have become some of the staunchest supporters of the Family Plan. In retrospect, they are the first to admit that Mr. Atencio was a visionary who knew that given Memorial's situation, there was no other alternative to implementing the Family Plan but in a top-down fashion. A number of the staff have reported that if he had not mandated the Family Plan, it would never have occurred. In fact, one teacher reflected, "the Family Plan was forced on us . . . but it had to be that way or we wouldn't have adopted the Family Plan if it hadn't been forced on us."

To confront and manage culture in Memorial's changing environment, Mr. Atencio performed several significant actions - and the need for these actions is supported by the literature on culture and change.

First, in recognizing that Hispanic culture has a major impact on students' academic and social performance at school, Mr. Atencio chose to implement a culturally congruent innovation that would enhance student success ­ both cognitively and affectively. Through the use of the Family Plan and cooperative learning, Mr. Atencio created a supportive environment that promoted a feeling of belonging, and connection, an environment in which kids understood that they were a part of something ­ "a family". He replaced the school's mainstream culture of individualism and competition with values of collectivism, cooperation, and strong relational ties ­ those values that are often found in traditional Hispanic communities.

Gudyknunst and Ting-Toomey (1988) contrast the concepts of individualism and collectivism as follows:

"In individualistic cultures 'people are supposed to look after themselves and their immediate family only, while in collectivistic cultures, 'people belong to in-groups or collectivities which are supposed to look after them in exchange for loyalty'. The 'I' identity has precedence in individualistic cultures over the 'we' identity, which takes precedence in collectivistic cultures. The emphasis in individualistic societies is on individuals' initiative and achievement, while emphasis is placed on belonging to groups in collectivistic societies." (pp. 40-41).

According to Gudyknunst and Ting-Toomey (1988):

"Collectivistic cultures emphasize goals, needs, and views of the in-group over those of the individual; the social norms of the in-group, rather than individual pleasure; shared in-group beliefs rather than unique individual beliefs; and a value on cooperation with in-group members, rather than maximizing individual outcomes." (p. 41)

Second, given that Las Vegas is a small rural "close-knit" community with deep roots and many people who are related directly or by marriage, and given that there is considerable distrust of "outsiders", Mr. Atencio immediately realized that as an "outsider" himself, he would encounter strong and long lasting resistance to any changes he might implement, no matter how great a reputation these innovations might have. According to Nachtigal (1982):

"This rather clear dichotomy between locals and outsiders ­ a distinction not found in the anonymity of an urban or suburban system ­ creates interesting problems for rural school reform efforts."(p. 9)

Third, as a risk-taker, Mr. Atencio felt his stay would be short-lived in this community. Upon his arrival at Las Vegas City Schools, as staff initially indicated, they were reluctant to take risks because they were afraid of possible ramifications. Mr. Atencio knew that regardless of how good his intentions were, it would not take long before his actions, would anger someone who was in power or a relative of someone who was in power. As Nachtigal (1982) points out, staff who work in school districts in small rural towns are:

"More vulnerable to community pressures than those in larger systems. They are known and constantly observed by the school patrons. If things are not going according to custom, they will surely hear about it, if not at school then in conversation at the local grocery store." (pp. 9-10)

In addition, since there were a number of "uncooperative" teachers at Memorial, Mr. Atencio knew that more directive measures of enforcing change were required. This meant "pushing out" uncommitted teachers from the school and even from the district ­ an action that might not be viewed as favorable by the locals.

Fourth, Las Vegas's traditional Hispanic values were sometimes viewed as impeding change in the district. For example, a number of staff reported that Memorial's principal, Mrs. Holguin, was controversial because she was female. They reported that her role as principal was in direct conflict to traditional Hispanic values found in Las Vegas where women are encouraged to work in more stereotypical roles such as housewife or secretary. As one parent stated, "Girls are raised to be subservient. They are not raised to be educated and succeed." Moreover, several white non-hispanic parents noted that in Las Vegas the "Hispanic culture is not quick to change . . .;" many people felt that this aspect of Hispanic culture slowed the pace of reform in the school district.

According to Gudyknunst and Ting-Toomey (1988), this view of how change occurs in the traditional Hispanic community of Las Vegas is in part due to a difference in temporal orientation between the white non-hispanic and Hispanic cultures. Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck (cited in Gudyknunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988) explain that the "temporal feature of human life concerns past, present, and future orientations" (p. 52). In other words, cultures (such as the Chinese culture) which value traditions highly are classified as having past orientations (Gudyknunst and Ting-Toomey, 1988). Cultures with present orientations (such as the Hispanic culture), give less attention (when compared to the Chinese culture) to traditions and to what might happen in the future (Gudyknunst and Ting-Toomey, 1988). For Hispanics, this orientation may be in part based on the fatalistic belief that humans are the victims of natural forces (Ramirez & Castaneda, 1974). Gudyknunst and Ting-Toomey (1988) report that a future orientation predominates in cultures where change is valued highly (as in American culture). Due to this difference in temporal orientation, change in a traditional Hispanic community like Las Vegas might evoke stronger and longer-lasting resistance than it evokes in mainstream communities.

Given these factors, Mr. Atencio's course of action was clear ­ act quickly and forcefully to mandate his vision. Facilitate the implementation personally and decisively, using key strategies such as appointing Mr. Chavez and Ms. Alarid to lead the on-site facilitation; sending teachers and parents to visit model programs; arranging for in-depth staff development for teachers; convening staff and parent discussions; and hiring a Las Vegan to be Memorial's new principal. And, when persuasion became ineffective and interventions had minimal impact, Mr. Atencio used the functional authority of his position to ensure that directives were followed, since time was marked for Mr. Atencio. As one staff member summarized Memorial's particular situation:

"I think that was the only way we were going to do it. If there's change to be made, I think we should not be given a choice. I think we can have input and suggestions and then look at these suggestions and look at the input and say 'OK this is what we have done, this is what we're going to do,' and do it because if you give us a choice we don't want change. . .We're afraid of change for whatever reason. Its new. We're comfortable in what we're doing. I think that's true of everyone. So, I think in retrospect there was no other way for them to do it than the way they did it!"

In the case of Las Vegas, a small rural community with traditional Hispanic values and a culture that is characterized by resistance to change, mandating change worked! While I am not suggesting that this approach be used with all small rural Hispanic communities, I am recommending that we, as researchers in change, encourage school leaders to consider student and community culture when implementing change in schools. With the presence of more racially and ethnically diverse and distinct communities in America, a mainstream model of implementing change may not be the most culturally congruent or the most effective choice for all reform efforts.

Next Page: References and Credits

Published in Issues ...about Change Volume 5, Number 4, Confronting And Managing Culture In A Changing Environment (1995)