'New Thinking' on Six Major Public School Problems

Areas where leadership and care can bring about change, even when dollars are short

PUBLIC education has resumed its activity for another 10-month period. But no school or district ever experiences a truly new year, until its leadership stops recycling its historically ineffective ideas and practices, and exchanges them for the selfless, common- sense thinking that these times require.

In the annual back-to-school media coverage, inadequate funding is repeatedly cited as the source of school problems. The growing number of high-funded and low-achieving schools, however, discredits this claim. Those public schools that are providing quality education for all pupils in a safe, secure, and enriched environment have not been bought; they are the outward expression of the clear-thinking, caring, and courageous individuals who lead them.

For example, consider these frequently discussed school challenges and the manner in which ''new'' thinking, and not simply cash transfusions, resolves them:

1. Over-crowded classrooms do not long exist in school districts whose leaders place a higher priority on teaching positions than on administrative posts or nonessential expenditures.

2. Broken-down or filthy campuses turn around almost overnight under the guidance of principals who will do whatever is required to provide for ''their children,'' and superintendents who are willing to privatize whatever in-house services are not getting the job done.

3. Unruly, destructive, and dangerous student behavior is most effectively handled not by policemen armed with guns, but by competent administrators armed with courage to enforce the laws, and the love to do it in a way that students accept.

4. A strong academic program with high learning expectations is commonplace in schools where administrators conscientiously and honestly evaluate their teaching staffs, and either improve or remove those who are ineffective.

5. Irresponsible parents become more respectful and supportive of schools whose leaders do not ignore, fear, or patronize them, but hold them accountable for their children's behavior.

6. New school construction proceeds at twice the speed and half the cost in districts whose leaders accept the unarguable benefits of modular construction.

Why are these scenarios the exception rather than the rule? Because for the most part our administrators have drifted from their role of visionary, selfless, courageous leaders focused on children and become timid custodians of a deteriorating status quo focused on continued employment. When education cries out for bold ''thermostats'' to fix an upward course, our schools are predominantly administered by ''thermometers'' who content themselves with measuring (and making excuses for) our present, troubl ed state.

Public education is like an out-of-control freight train, lurching into the future - our future. Those who are in the engineer's seat have proven incapable of stopping this negative momentum by themselves. If this institution leaps the track and crashes, everyone in society will suffer. Whatever your position in your community, join in the struggle for better schools. Work with your local school leaders to prove that while we may not have funding for everything we want, we certainly have sufficient reso urces for what we need, if we utilize them wisely. What's lacking has been our failure to remember that the primary purpose of schools is not to employ adults, but to educate children.

Teenage statistics for dropping out of school, pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence tell us that there's no time to waste. F.X. Trujillo once said, ''If you always do what you've always done; you'll always get what you've always got.'' Public school leaders (with our earnest encouragement), must change the thinking they've ''always done.'' Then we will have every reason to expect that the resulting actions will deliver the kind of public schools we know are possible.

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