Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Voice of Hope Rises Above the Din

The school year ended a couple of weeks ago here. The halls are empty, we are cleaning up last year’s records, building next year’s schedule student by student.

What goes on now is the work behind the scenes; work done without fanfare or hype, by teachers and staff whose work right now makes next year’s successes possible.

Things are a bit slower, however, and it allows me to catch up on things sent my way that were set aside in the rush to graduation this spring. In that collection of articles, books, and notes was one piece that caught my eye and gave me hope in spite of the ongoing and oft misguided debates about our schools. You can find it here, and I believe you will find this parent’s plea for school reformers to get serious about what really matters in schools inspiring.

I do not know the author personally, though I think I would like Helen Gym. She is the driving force behind something called Parents United for Public Education, good people who work for reforms like free busing for kids to school, smaller class sizes, healthy fresh food in cafeterias—you know, simple stuff that does not make headlines but really makes a difference.

But it was Ms. Gym’s piece on what parents really want when it comes to schools that caught my eye. Here is the short list, but I encourage you to follow the link to her entire piece:
  • Programs rich in the arts, sciences, and history that are about more than test scores;
  • Critical thinking;
  • Small classes;
  • An experienced, stable, and professional teaching force.

And what she points out is that while this is what parents want, these simple steps are ignored by politicians who contract out teaching, spend fortunes on tests and pre-packaged curricula, and continue to dumb down our schools with a focus on one-size-fits-all standardization.

Now that I am superintendent of schools in my little district, I can lead on some of these things in spite of state budget cuts and the focus on testing here. As Ms. Gym suggests, we are going to keep our early childhood programs in the face of reduced funds—and we are going to see how to make them more developmentally appropriate. We are going to squeeze just a bit harder to reduce class sizes in our middle school. We are going to continue to offer our staff the best support we can to bring on line a curriculum rich in critical literacy skills. And we are going to create a better website and re-launch our district newsletter to try and do a better job connecting with parents.

And I think I am going to send all of our staff—from teachers to custodians, aides to principals, a copy of Helen Gym’s fine piece of writing.

I have no idea how this will turn out for us, or for Ms. Gym and her allies in Philadelphia. But I do know that on this Saturday morning, in spite of the rain, things seem a bit brighter just knowing she and her friends are on my side.

No comments:

Post a Comment