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Amprey on his first year


AS I BELIEVED at the outset of my appointment a year ago, our care and concern must transform the stagnation of fear and distrust in the system into accelerated progress that comes with high expectations and understanding.

Long before I was appointed superintendent, our city as well as the rest of the nation came to the collective realization that the education crisis has placed our entire future in jeopardy. We have also realized that we must do more than ask the question: "What is it that we must do?" I believe we must first ask: "What is it that we need to understand -- about ourselves, about our children and about our perceptions?"

Too many of us still believe that the simple solution to improving student achievement is to focus only on students. There is still a very strong belief that doing what we can to improve student achievement will solve the problems of education.

For the past 11 months, we in the Department of Education have been working under a somewhat different vision. There are some basic tenets we must understand before we will be effective in improving student achievement. These tenets of our new vision must not only be understood; they must be embraced. The more people understand and embrace them, the greater will be our progress along the "pathway to excellence."

The first tenet is that we must change in order for our students to change. Children are the easiest part of our challenge to reform eduction. Children are excellent learners and teachers. They learn naturally. They have more ways to learn than we could ever develop to teach them. They think and behave based upon what they see and experience.

We often assume mistakenly hat students only experience consciously and that they only see what we consciously recognize they see. But these assumptions are not true. When we think hard about this, we realize that saying "all children can learn" does not go far enough. Our year-old philosophical vision states that "all people do learn, and they learn naturally and enjoy learning."

To accept this tenet and embrace it, we must change our beliefs about ourselves as well as our expectations for children. We start to deal with each other and our children in positive ways that promote self-esteem, creativity and enthusiasm. The implications of this philosophy are boundless.

Our attitudes about ourselves and each other as adult stakeholders in education must change. We make the mistake of assuming that the negative home and community experiences of many children outweigh the positive experiences they have in school. Our philosophy identifies the power of positive climate where the adults are having rewarding and fulfilling experiences -- both in the schools and the central office.

We have attempted to use these tenets of our philosophical vision to craft our plan to move students into the future.

Its components call for action based on our new understandings and beliefs. First, we now realize that decision-making must exist at every level of the organization.

Second, each of us must have clearly defined ownership and authority, particularly in the schools.

Third, we must always analyze the strategies of continuous improvement.

Fourth, our kinetic vision must include staff development, which will help all of us prepare for our changing roles, relationships and attitudes as we work together.

Finally, we must always recognize that no matter how good we are, we can always improve.

Much has been done over the past year to make an entire school system ready for change, and some of that change has begun. We have completed a goal-setting process which led to two studies of how urban problems display themselves in our city. We have experienced a transitional reorganization as the data from the studies revealed specific needs. We continue to make staff changes and implement innovative programs.

My first year has been both rewarding and fulfilling. It has also been filled with the excitement of hope and promise for the school system and the entire community. All are stakeholders. All of us are ready for the new and different school year, one in which we will see our problems today as opportunities to shape tomorrow.

It will be a great year and a more successful one if we continue to show interest in and support for our schools and children on our pathway to excellence.

Walter G. Amprey is Baltimore superintendent of schools.

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