Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thinking about Rochester Schools

I've been puzzling ever since I heard the news yesterday that our City Schools' Superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizzard, is leaving to head the Chicago school system. There cannot possibly be a person in this city who is surprised, and there are a whole lot of us who have been assuming that this was going to happen sooner rather than later for the last couple of years (Dr. Brizzard started in November 2007).

There are, of course, those who think the best possible thing has happened with his departure and others who are horrified that he has left in the middle of a reform process. I tend to be toward the latter, but I have many friends in the former camp for whom I have a great deal of respect. Life will, of course, go on. He wasn't the Messiah. Nor will his successor be, no matter how hard we look.

Not knowing what to think overall, I do have four thoughts:

1. We need to look for a new superintendent who is as committed to Rochester as he or she is to city school statistics. We need someone who loves or learns to love this city as much as we do. We do not need yet another someone who is going to start a process and not finish it just because a bigger carrot got dangled in front of them.

2. Our School Board is dysfunctional. Those folks need to do some good old fashioned team building. Respect needs to be the first word people think of when they thing of the school board members' relationship with one another and with the superintendent (and vica versa).

3. We need to ask ourselves if large school districts like this can really work anymore, at least the way they are currently configured. Institutions are changing rapidly in this world of ours. There has to be a better way to do this that puts more power to teach and administer to teachers, principals and parents.

4. Adversarial routes to change are neither helpful nor effective. Yes, sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe, but as soon as you have done that you have to put out your hand and be ready to work together, even with people with whom you disagree. I am a die-hard union supporter, but the teacher's union here needs to take a good, long, hard look at its leadership. Now would be a good time for a change.

The other thing I would say is that I hope this spurs further community involvement, although I am not entirely sure what that would like and would love to be part of a group of people who seriously thought about it. A lot of us are involved in putting band-aids on the system--a very necessary and important thing right now. But what about changing the system?

Just some thoughts. Oh, and by the way, I know Chicago pretty well having lived there for three years. Good luck, Dr. Brizzard. You're going to need it. You thought Rochester was tough?

1 comment:

Mary Ann said...

Michael,
I cannot agree with you more on several points. After talking with so many people in the work of exploring an Episcopal school in Rochester, I can say with certainty that the system is entirely broken. I left a meeting yesterday so sad for the children in our city. The relationships between teachers and parents, between teachers and administration, between administration and the union, between children and teachers ... Are all broken. No one supports anyone, and blame abounds.

I left wondering if the system is just too large to manage. Public schools were community based for a reason, and the city is not a sIngle community. It is a collection of communities. I've been wondering if it might make sense to divide it up somehow, and connect those smaller divisions with neighboring suburban communities.

The school board is another issue, and you're absolutely right they need to get their act together.

So many parents, who want to be involved in their children's education, no longer have patience to wait for the system to get fixed. They don't have the energy to fight the system any longer. Certainly, no one would argue that our city kids are getting the free public education they deserve.