The value of the long view Two views on city schools


I RECENTLY had the good fortune to represent the Fund for Educational Excellence as one of 17 community organizations which interviewed the five finalists for Baltimore city schools superintendent.

It was a well-orchestrated affair in which we had an hour with each candidate totally devoted to questions raised by the organizations, each able to ask one question in rotation. It was a productive and enlightening approach. We learned some of each candidate's views and obtained a sense of individual personalities. We were frustrated, though, because often a candidate's response to a question raised additional questions there wasn't time to pose.

All five candidates were credible and experienced. Define your educational vision for Baltimore schools, we asked. Describe changes you believe are achievable within present budget limitations. What is your view of school-based management, and is this a priority? How important will it be to develop a consensus among those who hold a stake in your programs and policies? Is accountability for performance important for central and school-based staff, how will you achieve it and what action will you take when it isn't achieved? Is parent involvement important, how will you achieve it and what types of roles will parents play? Describe your programs and priorities for students with special needs. And more.

Some answers were philosophical and general. Some were specific. What I found most difficult was how to get a true sense of the quality and style of leadership embodied in each candidate. How will educational philosophy be translated into action? Will the candidate lead and act and expect the rest of us to follow? Will a sincere effort be made to develop a consensus? Will the style be one of reaching out and including others? Is there the courage and tenacity to make the welfare of students paramount and to do what is necessary to serve their interests?

The choice has now been made. The school board and mayor have selected Walter G. Amprey, whose stated goals are to bring stability to the system and develop a long-range plan that will outlast his tenure in office. On the face ot it, this approach sounds traditional, more representative of the status quo. But is it?

"The Lessons of Change," a contemporary history of the city system we published last spring, shows we have experienced consistent turnover in leadership, policies and programs. Thus, the schools' central administration has had little impact on increasing the effectiveness of classroom teaching. Yet, this is where change must occur if we are to increase the number of nTC children achieving. And this, in turn, requires stable leadership and long-term policies and programs.

Perhaps the Board of School Commissioners will now step to the plate and make educational policy, expecting the superintendent to carry it out. There is much to commend in the 13-point plan used to evaluate the candidates. The first two priorities, if achieved, will make a major difference in the quality of our schools: "1. Develop and implement a plan to decentralize authority, resources and accountability from the central administration to the individual schools. 2. Develop and implement a plan to bring about equality of results among individual schools."

Amprey has been designated the person best qualified to achieve these priorities.

It's now important for the community to close ranks and do our best to help him succeed.

Jerry Baum is executive director of the Fund for Educational Excellence.

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