Three educators who have led schools inside and outside the conventional public school system locally say consistency at the school level will be important in a school year that will see a lot of change.
“I think it’s going to be a challenging process any time you are moving the frontier. But you have to build in consistency,” said countywide school board member and retired Memphis City Schools principal Oscar Love.
He commented on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News. The program can be seen on The Daily News Video, video.memphisdailynews.com.
Love was joined on the program by Bobby White, a former MCS principal who will lead the new Martin Luther King Prep School in the 2014-2015 school year as part of the Achievement School District. Also on the program was Sundiata Salaam, dean of Freedom Preparatory Academy. Freedom Prep this past school year moved into the old Lakeview School in Southwest Memphis.
The school year opens in August against a backdrop that includes the schools consolidation, the continuing rise of charter schools, the second year of the state-run Achievement School District and new statewide Common Core standards for student achievement.
“No matter what happens in any merger, we’re going to shake hands with kids that come in the door every morning,” Salaam said. “We check the homework every morning, no matter what happens with anything. We have consistency and structures that are set up through the school day that will continue to be set up there in the school no matter what happens outside of the schools.”
Gov. Bill Haslam is pictured at Freedom Preparatory School. Charter schools are part of widespread changes happening in local education.
(Daily News File/Kyle Kurlick)
“If we wake up every morning to serve children, then all of the stuff that is going on around matters not,” he said. “We’ll get it taken care of at the grass roots level on the ground floor.”
White added that parental involvement is essential but comes in many forms.
“If parents know that they are going to be heard and that their input is welcome … they will follow you to the end of the earth to make sure that their child does what they need to do,” he said. “If they never show up at a meeting, they are following you to the ends of the earth to make sure that their child is prepared to learn then they are involved.”
All three said autonomy for principals at the school level is also an important element.
White and Salaam said charter schools offer more of that as well as more of the responsibility that comes with it.
“If you are an educator and you’re an administrator you have this bit of a chip on your shoulder about ‘I’m good at what I do, and if I could just do it my way then I would be able to reach the children and help the community the way that I want to,’” White said.
Love said principals in the legacy Memphis City Schools had “a lot of autonomy and I think autonomy is absolutely essential to the success of schools.”
The autonomy extends to hiring teachers. And there is more of that across the different kinds of schools as well as competition for the best teachers among them including higher pay.
“Teachers are now valued,” White said. “We’ve always felt as teachers that we had the most important job on the planet. At times we’ve been viewed as these overpaid baby sitters who get the summers off. … Teachers are now a commodity that people are reaching out for. If you are good, you know you are going to be taken care of.”
Love said higher pay helps but isn’t the only factor.
“What we’re going to have to do … is step up to the plate as school leaders and make certain that we create a culture of success and a climate of content and happiness among our teachers,” he said.
And every teacher who gets a year of more of growth from students isn’t necessarily the right fit for any school.
“All charter schools aren’t the same,” Salaam said. “What we’re looking for at Freedom Prep is a type of teacher because we have longer hours. We have longer school years. There may be a wonderful teacher who is not used to that who we say is not a good fit.”
Or all of the teaching slots at one school may be filled which might mean a principal at one kind of school calls another and tells him about a teacher who might be a good fit there.
“The wave of education reform and everything that’s going on in our city, it leads to all of us being at the table and it not being about unified system, ASD and private,” White agreed.