The School Reform Commission and Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen – still new on the job – have been pressed into making immediate, daunting decisions. How to save hundreds of millions of dollars without gutting schools already reeling from deep cutbacks. How to restore confidence in a system that their predecessors left in turmoil.
Knudsen says his job is both to quickly cut expenses and to clarify the District's guiding mission and objectives. One sound principle already agreed to is decentralization and greater autonomy for schools. But as they hone their mission, we don't know what else besides the bottom line is guiding them.
Here are some keywords they should focus on:
Transparency: The District hasn't provided an organizational chart, hasn't updated the lists of big-ticket contracts and salaries published last June, hasn't fully explained its massive shortfall. Open the books! The public needs to trust the numbers.
Teaching and learning (not drill and kill): The mission of the School District is not to raise PSSA scores. It is to prepare lifelong learners who can succeed in college, careers, and life. Measures of school success and spending decisions should be based on that mission.
Relationships: Schools succeed when they are responsive to students and families and forge positive connections with the community, businesses, government, and other educational institutions. In turbulent times, relationships can come unraveled. Rebuilding them involves earning trust. To get through this crisis, it's paramount for those in charge to remember their greatest asset: all the people who want the schools to work.
Equity: It may be tempting to pare back to some minimal legal responsibility of putting teachers in front of students for seven hours a day. But District students have a diversity of needs. Not all are adequately met in a regular classroom. Services for special populations are not "extras" or "enrichment." You don't save a sinking ship by throwing passengers in the water. Equity means fighting for more resources for services deemed essential.