Schools Adrift in Space
Here we are at the beginning of another school year and, once again, nothing is the same except for the fact that we still do not have a new contract and have not had a raise for more than three years. Yet, all around us, in our schools and regional offices, change is pervasive. What’s new? School assessments, personnel changes in leadership positions at Tweed and in the regions, 331 empowerment schools, the discipline code, and managerial positions too similar to recently- eliminated CSA positions.
Last June, I visited two schools in the same region. At the first—an air-conditioned and beautifully constructed building. After a tour with the experienced Principal and Assistant Principal, we talked about their issues: a drop in the neighborhood’s student population, too few resources for the number of special education students, the possibility the school would not meet the annual yearly progress requirements of NCLB, and the Principal’s fear of losing the Assistant Principal position.
A short drive later, I entered another solar system. The entrance to the school and the hallways told the story in its undisguised neglect. Hot, dark and dank is the only way to describe the environment there. But in spite of the crumbling school and the message it sends to its students, staff and parents, what I found here was awe-inspiring.
How fortunate are the students, staff and community to have a Principal—a fiery, committed educator—who believes that being bilingual is an asset for her students, mostly Mexican immigrants or the children of such.
Imagine her initial surprise when she learned that the children and parents spoke not Spanish, but a Mexican-Indian dialect. Quickly, she learned all she could about her students’ heritage, and in doing so, has discovered many valuable facts that are helping her students build pride and self-esteem.
Almost single-handily, she is “all things to all people” in that environment. She is the Principal, the interpreter, the dean and the social worker among other roles. Although she stays alone in her school until late in the evenings and on weekends to catch up on administrative tasks, she regrets that she spends too little time with her own child.
It is clear that every school has its challenges. We believe that every Principal and every Assistant Principal, whether newly assigned or very experienced, requires the appropriate personnel with the requisite skills to take on assigned responsibilities. For our new Principal, empowerment means nothing when her resources are wholly inadequate for the work she needs to do and where the school in which she works needs to be torn down and rebuilt as a structure that speaks of love and respect for its children, community and, not least of all, for the staff that work so hard day in and day out.
Jill Levy is the president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators.#