Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An inspiring Superintendent

Yes, you read that right! But I really was amazed to read this quote in an article (http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2011/03/i_am_educator_hear_me_roar_an.html) about John Kuhn, a school Superintendent in Perrin-Whitt School District, Texas:

"In my mind, we should treat teachers the way we want them to treat students. But we don't. We ask them to encourage and remediate and support kids while we whip, label and threaten them."

That's probably a pretty accurate statement about how Wisconsin teachers feel, or any teacher in the United States right now. Class sizes are rising, funding is in desperately short supply, poverty rates and unemployment is up, testing is increasing and increasingly high stakes, pay is down, benefit costs are up,...oh, and students are not doing so well and it is all your fault.

I found this interview inspiring, however, as it is not often that we hear school administrators speak up. How I long for the day when Superintendents, Principals, Secretary Treasurers, speak out about the decaying conditions and the need to treat the front line workers, teachers, with respect and dignity. During the teacher strike in 2005, only a single administrator in Victoria spoke publicly about class size and composition.

Leadership in our public schools should be about more than the day to day and more than about following orders from the Ministry. And it should involve collaboration with all the professionals in the school - a dialogue based on truth and an honest assessment of student needs. Instead, it is so often an exercise of shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic - a whole staff meeting on "linear versus semester" timetables, student agendas in every class, the positive behaviour support system,..., and the list goes on. Not that these are necessarily bad ideas or not worth talking about. But they are not the real problem.

Or worse, we have to spend a professional development day on an unthoughtful and uncritical adoption of the latest Ministry initiative destined to fail because no one consulted the teaching profession (think: grad portfolio, daily physical activity with no gym space, grade 10 provincial exams).

But in ten years in the school system, I have yet to ever attend a school based discussion, led by an administrator, about the fact that we can no longer do more with less and what are we going to do to advocate for a better public system that is not chronically underfunded. I have yet to see the educational leadership take a lead and be advocates.

Here are some more words from this inspiring Texas Superintendent:

"I have always believed that if a person has the audacity to accept the mantle of leadership, they'd better have the courage to lead. Unfortunately, many of my state elected officials play games and issue half-true sound bites rather than exhibiting true leadership. The greater good is dying on the floor while they preen and play to their fan clubs."

Trustees, our other educational leaders, should even more take up the enterprise of advocating for proper funding and educational change based on collaboration rather than imposition. Some do, such as the courageous Vancouver School Board, who have contested the government on funding. But we need more speaking out and acting out if we are going to see meaningful movement from this government. We need a chorus of everyone in the educational leadership and the teaching profession to defend our public schools.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tara,

    Just want to point out that most boards in the province advocate for proper funding and educational change based on collaboration... and do so through communications with the government and our local media. When a board's local media also happens to be the provincial media, the rest of us around BC tend to hear a lot more about it. One good source for catching up on board (and BCSTA) advocacy is the annual collection of submissions on budget input to the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services.

    I also like your point about advocacy for change based on collaboration. Boards also need to do our part to "collaborate" and if we resort to personal or partisan attacks it's really a wasted effort, perhaps even counter-productive. Granted all we typically hear back are political talking points, to our frustration, but some of us still believe in modelling "collaborative" behaviour. Our board sends a detailed letter to the Minister about funding impacts every year, not to score political points, but rather to very clearly demonstrate what is happening to district, school, classroom budgets... Off to a meeting - may discuss more later!