Timely words from a school board president

At a time of overheated rhetoric about education reform, here’s a reminder from Mark GiaQuinta, president of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board, that the important stuff is what happens in the schoolhouse, not the Statehouse.

GiaQuinta sent this message last week to Fort Wayne public education supporters, responding to efforts in the Indiana legislature to expand charter schools and implement a new voucher program. It seems relevant to the discussions taking place in the Monroe County Community School Corp. over how to allocate revenue from the recently approved property-tax referendum.

The Journal-Gazette newspaper reprinted it in the Learning Curve blog. With GiaQuinta’s permission, School Matters is sharing it here as well:

“The current debate over charters and vouchers fails to address the single most important issue in the reform of education, which is the commitment to a strategy that individualizes instruction to enable the appropriate intervention to change the outcome for the student. That commitment has to be “owned” by the School Board, the Administration, the Building Leaders (Principals and Assistants) and, most importantly, the teaching professionals.

“Each of the aforementioned has to demonstrate that commitment in different ways. For example, the Board has to commit to leave the implementation of the strategy to the Administration and the educators and limit its role to goal setting and the approval of policy that supports those goals. The Board has to approve budgets that reflect the district’s goals and not allow itself to be diverted by demands that will not lead to high achievement for all students. The Board has to commit to support the Administration against those who oppose the strategy based on personal agendas or political (small “P”) reasons. The Board has to explain the strategy to the community to counter those who believe that the status quo is acceptable. Finally, the Board should provide moral support to the Administration, Principals and Teachers in recognition of the sacrifices and effort that will be required to succeed.

“The Administration has to commit to implementing the strategy by establishing metrics that determine whether the strategy is in the hands of the right leaders. The Administration has to commit to making necessary changes in personnel when it determines that those not able to grasp or implement the strategy have become obstacles to change. The Administration must also commit to giving building leaders and teachers the tools they need to succeed in the strategy and the support when the going gets rough.

“Building leaders have a very difficult role. They must commit to overcome past allegiances based upon personal loyalties, local traditions, lowered expectations based upon cultural bias, and misplaced parental demands among other impediments to student achievement. They must commit to a new role that takes them out of the office and into the classroom where they can observe the instruction and provide constructive feedback to improve instruction. In summary, they cannot expect to lead a school from the Principal’s Office.

“Finally, teaching professionals have the most important role of all. They must be willing to accept a new job description, one much different than what they may have been taught. The teachers have to commit to using the data they have to help individual students achieve at a high level. They must be ready to admit that what they thought they knew about the students in their classrooms may not square with the student’s actual level of performance. The teachers have to commit to throwing themselves into professional development with that same humility in order to improve their skills so that they have the best practices at their disposal to carry out the strategy approved and funded by the Board. Teachers have to resist the peer pressure from their colleagues who are unable to make the transition to a strategy based upon the belief that all students can achieve at grade level. This they must do in the face of unfair criticism directed at them by those who have no real understanding of what goes on in the classroom each day. They must persevere despite the current pop culture that perpetuates a myth that they are taking more than they contribute. They must succeed in an atmosphere that fails to recognize their success or acknowledge that many have been succeeding all along.

“By now you should recognize that this outline for success has very little to do with the label attached to the ‘legal’ form of the entity committed to improve education. FWCS will continue to pursue our goals regardless of the outcome of the legislative session and the likely reduction in resources available to the district. Our commitment is strong and our team has taken ownership of our goals. However, the blind acceptance that the state’s performance will improve based upon the number of charters granted will make our job more difficult. It perpetuates the myth that a silver bullet exists in the name of charter schools that, once created, will result in higher achievement thereby justifying the dividing up of the funds necessary to educate our children. If a charter school has the commitment from top to bottom that FWCS has demonstrated, they too will experience our positive trends. If they do not, they will fail in the same way both traditional and charter public schools have failed in the past. It is that simple. Our question is equally simple, why should a shadow public system be funded in a district that is willing to commit itself to high achievement for all students?”


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