Different and Better Rule Proved Wrong

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/education/28school.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hpw

While the author of the article and all the Harvard groupies are looking at the size of the school population, I am reflecting on change which takes immense courage.  Unless you read the article carefully, it is difficult to catch Susan Szachowicz as teacher before becoming Dr. and principal of the school. 

Dr. Susan Szachowicz perhaps demonstrated all her strengths as a teacher, not an administrator.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

The change which Brockton HS needed was not from above, but within.  Kudos to the then administration for allowing the teachers to be the change they wanted to see.  This small and subtle idea is what is so often neglected in schools, districts and even in our own government.  Instead of allowing teachers to be changemakers, administrators and above believe their advanced degrees and mandates are of greater value and import than what teachers in the classroom know.  It is this very friction that 3/5 new teachers leave the profession. 

Dr. Szachowicz and Paul Laurino, then the head of the English department — he has since retired — began meeting on Saturdays with any colleagues they could pull together to brainstorm strategies for improving the school.

The group eventually became known as the school restructuring committee, and the administration did not stand in the way. The principal “just let it happen,” the Harvard report says.

In the above quote lies the evidence to demonstrate teachers care and will rise to the occassion and the challenge.  In the next quote is the proof of how internal change works:

After that early triumph, remaining resistance among the faculty gave way, Dr. Szachowicz said. Overnight, the restructuring committee gained enormous credibility, and scores of once-reluctant teachers wanted to start attending its Saturday meetings, which continue today.

Within the interceding paragraphs in the article are all the normal conundrums of a troubled school and yet, the teachers did the change.

Brockton never fired large numbers of teachers, in contrast with current federal policy, which encourages failing schools to consider replacing at least half of all teachers to reinvigorate instruction.

But Dr. Szachowicz and her colleagues did make some teachers uncomfortable, and at least one teacher who refused to participate in the turnaround was eventually dismissed after due process hearings.

The scuttlebut of unions?  Apparently not such a large issue.

But Dr. Szachowicz and her colleagues did make some teachers uncomfortable, and at least one teacher who refused to participate in the turnaround was eventually dismissed after due process hearings.Teachers unions have resisted turnaround efforts at many schools.
Teachers were not treated as incompetent and unable to manage time. Teachers were not sanctioned – their time was respected, something so unique and original it defies explination, most especially at a large school.
But at Brockton, the union never became a serious adversary, in part because most committee members were unionized teachers, and the committee scrupulously honored the union contract. An example: the contract set aside two hours per month for teacher meetings, previously used to discuss mundane school business. 
The committee began dedicating those to teacher training, and made sure they never lasted a minute beyond the time allotted. “Dr. Szachowicz takes the contract seriously, and we’ve worked together within its parameters,” said Tim Sullivan, who was president of the local teachers union through much of the last decade. 
AND

The committee changed many rules and policies.

The school had an elaborate tracking system, for instance, that channeled students into one of five academic paths. It was largely eliminated because the “basic” courses set low expectations for poor-performing students.

Athletics had traditionally been valued above academic success, and coaches had routinely pressured teachers to raise the grades of star players to maintain their eligibility. Dr. Szachowicz said she put an end to any exceptions.

And, the characteristic all teachers know and employ when allowed:

 The report noted one characteristic shared by all: “Achievement rose when leadership teams focused thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction.”

This article puts all the ‘evidence’ to shame, including charter schools which are anti union, administrators who believe they solely have all the answers and that is why they are the top dog of the school, all the big money outsiders who have convinced the public they know what reformn looks/feels/smells/sounds and tastes like and it requires all the ivory tower eduwonk types to start thinking about the possibility Lamarck may in some ways be correct…….not everything must be Darwinian in nature.

P. S.  If anyone knows the name of the then principal and superintendent, please pass it on to me.  Those two people deserve recognition for amazing foresight at a time when most administrative types follow along.

 

 

 

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