Photo by Jeff Fusco
(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from Susan Gobreski, a member of Mayor-elect Jim Kenney’s transition team. She serves on his education committee.)
Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It is a perfect way to understand schools, too. Successful ones are alike in key ways. Children are learning, there is a supportive community, and parents and teachers are happy.
But each struggling school is not succeeding in its own individual way. They have specific children with individual needs. Even schools that appear to be alike may be quite different.
Consider two schools in the same city, each with an 85 percent of their students in poverty and 20 percent of them English language learners. One might have an especially high number of special-education students with mild needs, and English language learners from four different native languages. Plus, they may have an experienced special education staff, a local grocery store, a strong neighborhood organization, an old building and a recent neighborhood outbreak of shootings. The other might have a low special education rate but higher-needs students, English language learners from just one native language, a high asthma rate, high absenteeism, limited health resources in the community, a couple of strong math teachers and a new principal.
The challenges are very different, as are the interventions, strategies, tools and resources needed to make improvements at each school.
The current education reform trend to emphasize governance, district administrative leadership structure and rules, and a strategy to create more charter schools or a portfolio district model, is inherently the wrong emphasis. The focus needs to be on providing and aligning supports sufficient to meet student needs, and school leadership that understands how to do it. Read more »