Thursday, October 15, 2009

School Superintendents Don't Matter Much

So wrote William Strawberry on 8/16/04, one of my favorite black columnists in the JS back then. Strawberry wrote, "I don't mean to say that there aren't places where brilliant leadership from the central office has made a difference. I do mean to say that central office leadership isn't the main thing that's wrong with the public schools. What is: Snarled lines of authority, so that those with the responsibility are not always those with the authority or the checkbook, and no one knows who is responsible to whom; the flight of the middle-class to nonpublic schools, greatly reducing the pressure on those in charge to provide resources and to raise expectations; the fact that the school system (like the local city and county government) seems to see itself more of a source of jobs for people they favor as a vehicle for raising a generation of children.

There is, I would add, a lack of passionate involvement of parents and neighbors at the individual school level." (Mr. Strawberry, watch things in Peoria really go to pot when Woodruff High School is combined with Peoria High several miles away)

Strawberry continues, "No, the central office we have been relying on for all these years is a huge part of the problem. Isn't it clear by now how much the fights among school leaders including school boards, city councils and (mayors) have to do with political power--and how little with the education of our children.

And a little unsolicited advise. Lose those national search companies that keep coming up with the same list of marginally successful applicants. Better to spend the effort on making sure that each school has a savvy, committed and accountable principal. An outstanding principal will make more difference, and make it more quickly, than an outstanding superintendent, who will take a year or more to figure out what wrong and which people can be counted on to fix it.

Good luck but I'm too old to believe in school fairies."

Mr. Strawberry was a columnist I always looked forward to reading. Too bad the Journal Star doesn't publish his columns anymore. As to the lack of involvement by parents and neighbors, they have frankly given up on local bureaucracies. The day the larger cities did away with community schools is where the system started it's rapid descent. That along with the rise of militant union leaders have basically killed the public school system. However, I agree with most of what Terry Knapp said except his complaint about a "Caucasian" in charge. In the real world, the overwhelming majority of blacks report to white or Caucasian leadership.

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