Is Good for the Best Is Good for the Rest
Impossible: Leadership Lessons from Inside and Outside the Classroom
by Lorraine Monroe Public Affairs, 223 pp.
is an engaging, enlightening and utterly compelling book. I read
it straight through, eager to find out what happened next in the
saga of Dr. Lorraine Monroe’s journey from sometimes-struggling
student to principal and founder of Harlem’s Frederick Douglass
Academy. Along the way, she introduces the many people who’ve
exerted influences on her life, from her parents and grandparents
to teachers—both inspiring and awful—professors, principals and
mentors who directed her towards the path she pursues today.
Perhaps what’s most appealing about this book is its focus on
Monroe’s message, repeated at strategic moments throughout the
text in clearly-marked bullet points and pull-out sections: “What
is good for the best is good for the rest. To do anything less
Imbued with a powerful sense of her own worth, a deep religious
faith that the work she did is her mission in the world, and an
ability to rise above frustration, failure (she wasn’t selected
to attend Hunter High School or Bronx Science, flunked her Regents
trigonometry course, came close to failing Regents chemistry,
and earned a D-plus average at Hunter College as a freshman) and
obstacles (Monroe never took the Regents scholarship exam because
no one told her it was important to do so), Monroe nonetheless
has been able to snatch victory from the grasping jaws of defeat.
Monroe grew up in the sort of environment that many of her later
students would come from. She understands the challenges of inner
cities and what waits for her pupils outside the school walls,
and she believes strongly in order, routine and high expectations,
with little tolerance for excuses. “Race, ethnicity and poverty
are poor excuses for low expectations,” she explains. “What a
teacher feels and thinks about the children in front of her makes
all the difference in how much those children learn.”
She developed Frederick Douglass Academy as an alternative for
Harlem’s pupils. With an 80 percent African-American and 20 percent
Latino student body, representing students at all academic achievement
levels, Monroe and her dedicated staff managed to earn a first-place
for the school in the district, and 11th place in the
city, in its first year for the reading exams. “We expect you
to be special in every way,” she tells her students. “We then
proceed to make them gifted and talented, which is the job of
any school worth its salt,” she writes, describing her methods.
Monroe, who is currently the executive director of the School
Leadership Academy at the Center for Educational Innovation in
New York City, which she founded, and is a consultant who travels
the country and world to spread her doctrine of effective school
leadership, writes, “If kids can have one place in their daily
lives where there is order and stability and where worthwhile
activities are going on, then there is a high possibility that
their lives can be transformed for the better.” And that, ultimately,
is what education is all about.
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