Road to Schools’ Renaissance
on the current national dialogue concerning mayoral control
versus decentralized control of a school system, I think we,
as a nation, may be focusing on the wrong topic if we really
want to see a renaissance in our public schools.
I believe the structure
of the school system is less critical to our long-term success
than many other factors. Those factors include the development
of common-sense, research-supported standards and testing
mechanisms, as well as appropriate funding for recruitment,
training and retention of our best people. I also strongly
believe an attractive, well-equipped building tells children
they are important and provides a professional environment
for adults. Adequately staffed buildings allow a child to
feel both safe and taken care of, educationally and physically.
It allows adults to focus on their assigned tasks not other
The above items will
cost money. Money our nation has if we simply reorder our
priorities. The Bush administration, as well as Governor
Pataki, talk about the importance of education but refuse
to back their rhetoric with tax dollars. There is no logical
reason why educators should make so much less than corporate
lawyers other than that structure is entrenched in our society.
If you start with the fresh assumption that making money
is not more important than educating our youngsters, you’d be surprised at the progress we’d
Another critical factor
towards building successful schools… bureaucrats must respect the professional knowledge
and skills of the employees. Treating professionals as if they
are on an assembly line is insulting. The lawyers, corporate
types and recent college graduates in the Tweed Building would
do well to back off their heavy-handed ways and allow for a
true dialogue, without recriminations. A successful school,
after all, is often the result of many factors, some of which
are difficult to quantify. I was recently reminded of this
after reading an article by Lisa Belkin in the Sept. 12 New
York Times magazine. “Is There a Place in Class for Thomas?” was
an uplifting account of a kindergartner with cerebral palsy.
The story focused on his parents’ search for an appropriate
public school and the response of a principal and her staff.
Principal Susan Rappaport of the Manhattan School
for Children was up to the task of handling the education of
Thomas Ellenson. Fortunately for the little boy, he also had
parents who knew how to work the system, research their topic
and push their agenda for their son.
Ms. Belkin also emphasized
that a staff of teachers, paraprofessionals, specialists,
therapists as well as the school community understood that
meeting this one child’s needs
would take a school-wide effort. It is the story of a village
raising a child.
Another reminder of the intangibles came during
a recent airing of NOW with Bill Moyers. Moyers focused on
several students at the Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Evening
High School. The school educates students, ages 17 to 20, who
have adult responsibilities and need a school that provides
Their poignant stories of hardship would have
felled many older and more experienced people. But, through
the vision and leadership of Principal Howard Friedman and
his staff, (including more than100 volunteers who provide social
services and tutoring,) each student receives individualized
A school system cannot reasonably expect a student
who arrives here at age 16 without English skills and without
a formal education to succeed. And success did not happen overnight.
Recruiting, training and retaining staff, providing work guidelines
that keep everyone on target, and, sometimes, not exactly following
all of the rules have provided hundreds of older students with
opportunities they never dreamed possible.
The organizational structure
these success stories. The commitment, vision and resourcefulness
of our school leaders, in hand with the financial support from
the centralized structures, are the true foundation for success
in our schools.#