2016-06-16 / Opinion

Untie Hands of School Principals

To the Editor:

Imagine this scenario: You’re offered a job with good pay and great benefits, lots of responsibility and accountability, which should give you incentive to outperform expectations.

But there’s a hitch: You aren’t given any authority. You cannot make changes to operating procedures or amend contracts with outside vendors without permission. You cannot implement new plans or programs to enhance output without permission. And you cannot hire, fire or promote employees, or assign them to new responsibilities without permission.

To get permission, you need to convince your boss. And you report to about 12 people.

What sounds like a nightmare to those of us in the business world is the working life of a public school principal in Newport. For example, Newport’s principals manage staffs of more than 100 teachers, instructional leaders and other administrative and support staff. They operate with budgets of $15,000 per pupil, and collectively oversee – and are responsible for – the education of more than 2,000 students.

Yet the principals of Newport’s primary, middle and high schools are forced to operate at the mercy of their superintendent, the School Committee, the City Council, and the teachers’ union(s). They have no individual control over personnel changes or curriculum changes, and very limited discretionary authority over only a fraction of their school’s budget allocation.

There are no quick decisions: Everything must be discussed and approved by all of those so-called supervisors who often cannot agree on the weather outside their window.

No corporate executive would be asked to manage under such restrictions, or agree to do so if he/she was asked. Public school principals need to be respected as managers, trained professionals capable of running his/her school without copious bureaucratic red tape created by an undue number of overseers, many of whom have never worked inside a classroom.

There is much that needs to be improved in our K-12 education system. Curricula need to be enhanced with more science, math and STEM-related subjects to adequately prepare today’s youngsters for competition in a world deeply influenced by technology and computer science. Curricula conceived 50 years ago are stale bread; they cannot properly nourish the minds of today’s youth.

Pedagogy needs upgrading to better use this technology and better apply academic knowledge to the real world in which children will be required to compete. School climates and cultures need to improve so students, and teachers, are energized by their classroom association.

That kind of change must be initiated by a trained professional. That same professional should be permitted to manage the personnel he/she is supposedly supervising; he/she should be delegated responsibility for the quality of the work flow in the school, and must have control of the dollars that will make it all possible.

Don Dery

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