As a recently retired School District principal with an insider’s perspective on school reform efforts for the last 17 years, I am happy to be offered the opportunity to join the Notebook's roll of bloggers. I believe that in a modest way I can provide a more nuanced and realistic perspective regarding the challenges and successes of public education than what has often been characterized in the media in recent times.
My career as an educator has been rooted in the belief that the work of a teacher is a vital public service. I am an unabashed supporter of public education. I see our public schools as the means through which we support our children in developing the skills that will assist them to be successful and productive adults. Further, I see our schools as community centers that unify us as a people and prepare our children to be active and responsible citizens of our democratic society. I believe that school based K-12 educators need to speak out on the issues that confront us.
I have been a educator for 36 years and principal of Meade Elementary School for 12.5 years. Before taking leadership of Meade School, I was the assistant principal at the neighboring Vaux Middle School. Nearly half of my career has been spent in one North Philadelphia community learning much about the schooling of children who live in low-resourced neighborhoods.
The school turnaround advocates who currently dominate the NCLB school reform agenda claim that dramatic increases in student test performance can occur in a short period of one to two years. My years of experience as a school-based teacher and teacher leader have taught me that real educational change is a slow, complex, and sometimes grueling process. Yet it is one that has a much greater significance on the future successes of children than increasing test scores on a standardized test.
It is time to start to set the record straight about what it takes to achieve true measures of school reform. I look forward to fully and openly participating in the lively dialogue that the Notebook site generates.
Superintendent William Hite has changed a flawed school-closings plan, and the revision was an encouraging sign. Hearing the concerns and suggestions of individual school communities was exactly what Dr. Hite needed to do in order to demonstrate that he is pursuing a school reform agenda responsive to the best interests and needs of city neighborhoods. It is time that the members of the School Reform Commission do the same.
To fully grasp the impact that a school has on the children it serves, one must first understand the neighborhood where those children live. A school is not an island. It is part of the social web of a community. With schools operating in economically distressed areas, they can, and often do, serve as beacons of hope. They are lighthouses, so they shouldn’t be judged in the same way as other institutions.
I have been troubled by the negative tone of several comments posted in response to Notebook articles over the last few months. Anonymous posters have increasingly engaged in highly critical and often sharply worded personal attacks on individual Philadelphia School District employees and union personnel. Though I can understand the depth of emotion that motivates people to make such remarks, I do not support this course of action.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission recently chose to ignore a great opportunity to encourage and support authentic grassroots school reform efforts in the District. They did so by rejecting a self-governance school reform plan submitted by the Creighton Elementary School community.
Earlier this week the District announced a shift away from mandated, scripted curricula in favor of autonomy for individual schools. Over the past decade, the amount of autonomy a school has over its curriculum has repeatedly changed as the District leadership changes. Let's review that recent history.
This Saturday, the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action will take place in Washington D.C. The rally, which will be staged at the ellipse, starts at noon. Around 1:30 p.m., participants will march to the White House where the demonstration will continue.
Many readers will recognize that most, if not all, of the issues that we regularly discuss in the comments of the Notebook blog are represented in the march's guiding principles.