Today I’m honored to welcome David N. Walker as our guest. Coming from a family of educators, his topic and the reforms needed in the system resonate with me. Here is a link back to Part I of his education discussion. I came to find David’s blog by way of Kristen Lamb and became a fan and regular reader this summer. His topics range from writing to current events to areas of personal interest. Once done reading and commenting here, please make sure you pop over and check out the rest of David’s offerings.
A smile never increases in price or decreases in value.
What’s Wrong with Schools? Let’s Start at the Top.
Whenever the discussion turns to education in the United States, everybody seems to have an opinion about what’s wrong. We don’t spend enough money or we don’t pay teachers enough or teachers aren’t qualified enough. We need more “programs” to assure no child is left behind or feels bad about himself.
A little closer to the mark, parents aren’t interested enough. There’s a lot of truth to that one, and I don’t think we’ll ever truly solve the problems in our education system as long as we’re dealing with kids whose parents are in prison or on dope or just too busy to pay attention to their needs—but that’s not what I want to talk about.
In a half century of dealing with businesses, churches and other organizations and educational institutions, one fact I’ve found to be just about universally true is that the tone of any organization is set by the leader. A strong, caring, knowledgeable leader will almost always produce a strong, caring and effective organization.
Who do we have leading our public schools? Every school system I know of has a board, which sets general policy, and a superintendent, who provides day-to-day leadership. So, where do we find these people?
Let’s look at the school board first. My observations are based on large urban and suburban districts. If yours is a small town or rural district, possibly not everything I’m going to say will apply, but I think it will for most larger districts.
Thanks to meddling by the federal judiciary, big city school boards these days are comprised by members elected from single-member districts. If I’m a member of the Fort Worth school board, I don’t represent the people of Fort Worth. I represent the people of MY DISTRICT.
Think about that for a moment. If a certain thing is popular among people of my district but would not be good for the overall school system, how am I going to vote? If I want to be re-elected, I’m going to be strongly influenced to vote my district’s interests over those of the school system.
Back in the 1950s and 60s when my dad was on the Fort Worth school board, all members were elected district-wide. That pretty much removed the board from politics and left the members to concentrate on running a school system rather than appeasing voters in a certain district. And we had MUCH better schools.
Also back in those days, superintendents were promoted from among associate superintendents, who had, in turn, worked their way up the ranks. When we had to replace one who died or retired, we were assured of getting one who loved our school system, had its best interests at heart, and knew the people he (there were no shes back in those days) had to work with. Again, the result was GOOD SCHOOLS.
When my friend Judy Truelson retired as superintendent in the late 1970s, the board decided to hold a nationwide search for a replacement rather than promote from within as before. The result was a hired gunslinger who had managed to do a good job of looking good.
Each time we’ve brought in a new superintendent since then, he or she has arrived with a pet program or programs to install in order to change the way things were done and put his or her stamp on the system. We’ve had some good ones, some mediocre ones, and one pretty bad one as a result of this. What we have not had is one who valued loyalty to the district or its employees.
We see a lot of this same thing going on in corporate America these days. Instead of promoting a division manager to vice president and a vice president to president, far too many companies hire “headhunters” to scour the country looking for a gunslinger to hire. Again, loyalty to company and stockholders suffers.
Getting back to home-grown superintendents and at-large elections for school board members will not solve all the problems facing our schools today. We’ll still have parents who don’t care enough to get involved, kids who are hooked on drugs and the other problems facing us today, but we’d at least have administrator and board members who truly cared about the best interests of the school system they’re charged with running.
Your comments are welcomed.
Thanks, David. Since it is Melodic Monday, I’m including a link to “Tomorrow” from Quincy Jones and Tevin Campbell. Whenever I hear this song, I’m uplifted and left with the promise of what the future for children could be.
David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states.
He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. Since his retirement from insurance a few years ago, he has devoted his time to helping Kristen Lamb start Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp and trying to learn to write a successful novel himself.