Education 101: Redesigning
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Take the Good with the Bad
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Etymology of a Buzzward
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to Win AQP Excellence Award
It's About Time
by Peter Block
You Have to Be a Little
by Cathy Kramer
Views for a Change
Letters to the Editor
Education 101 Redesigning
NFC: If you were consulting with another school
system that had been considering site-based management,
what would you recommend to them?
I think training - management training and training for
staff. The other thing is time. When I talk to teachers,
what is really important for them is the time to sit and
think and talk and interact. So, I think trying to
arrange time for teachers, not after their school time in
order to do this type of work.
NFC: Who are the people on your site
Stewart: The people on the
councils are teachers, classified staff, parents,
students and administrators, they are shared
decision-making. We had a framework committee who put
some things in place. We were determined that the number
of teachers would be fifty percent and above. Other than
that it was left to the schools when they wrote their
plans to decide how many there would be in each council
and how many of those would be students,
parents, and so on.
NFC: What kind of decisions can these site
councils make? Can they make decisions about teachers'
Stewart: No they can't make
decisions about salaries. They have to adhere to state
and federal laws, court decisions and to the contract of
the district. We now have a group called the Teaching and
Learning Committee, which can help with problems that the
local school sites have gotten into.
NFC: What might some of those
Stewart: One of the major areas at the
moment is who makes what decisions. It's a real change
for principals who are accustomed to making a lot of
decisions. For example, traditionally principals would
review the curriculum and change it, in order to help the
students within district guidelines. Now their role has
changed and they're not sure exactly where some of these
decisions should be made.
NFC: Have they moved into the area of evaluation of
Stewart: No. I think
in some informal way they might, but if you're talking
about a formal evaluation the answer is no.
NFC: How do they select the
Stewart: That's up to each school
site. They have to write that down in their charter. In
one of our high schools they do it by the different
groups who belong. Since we have such diversity in ethnic
groups we try to make sure that's included.
NFC: Where do you see these site councils
going? Five years from now what would be your
Stewart: My hope would be that we
would decentralize more decisions and have councils that
work well together. Councils that have more control of
school budgets, are really concerned about the kids and
how they can further education, and keep them, care for
them. Councils that have done some research and are
willing to explore new ways of teaching kids and not
afraid of making mistakes.
NFC: Can you tell me about the Teaching and
Stewart: The Teaching and Learning Committee will
serve as a filter and advisory group for initiatives
related to restructuring and improving teaching and
learning through site-based management and shared
decision-making. All initiatives indicating significant
changes at a school must go through the Teaching and
Learning Committee for comment before going to the board.
- Review all plans if contractual or
regulatory waivers are needed
- Facilitate obtaining waivers of
state or federal board policy or collective bargaining
- Participate in annual review of
site-based management, shared
- Mediate conflicts and matters
related to site-based management, shared
NFC: Why couldn't these groups
mediate their own conflicts?
One would hope they do. I would hope they
only come to the board as a last resource. We took a team
to Edmonton, Alberta, for a conference on site-based
management. I talked to somebody from their central
office who said what happened with their councils is if
they got into some dispute they expected the principals
to solve the matter. If the principal came to the
district they might very well send them back to the
school site to do something. If they needed training,
they would provide training. If as a last resort they
hadn't resolved things over a long period of time, they
would send a mediator down.
NFC: You have contract negotiations coming up. The
head of the Union was part of your team at the School for
Stewart: Yes. One of our
teachers who I think is on the bargaining team made a
comment about the experience at the School for Managing.
"Professionally I thought the communication among team
members to be effective in promoting change. I think I am
more able to see other points of view and now may
recognize when my agenda is stifling the discussion." I
personally think we have all gotten to understand each
other better. I think we are much more likely to raise
issues and talk about them.
NFC: You've served on the board now for almost
fifteen years. What do you see as the biggest challenges
in getting your school system to the year 2000?
Stewart: I think setting clear expectations of what
we expect for achievement and education for kids. And to
make sure that all kids get the same curriculum and are
treated in the same manner.
NFC: Is there a solution to how our country
finances school systems?
Stewart: We haven't
found one yet. On the state level we are trying to sort
out the system to see how much it cost. What we've done
is put together some estimates and a document on the
cost. When you do your budget there are varying account
numbers and that's where the money goes. But that really
doesn't tell you what the money is spent for. So we are
in the process of trying to find out what schools spend
money for. We are hoping that we get an idea of the cost
of different parts of the system. Since it is a system
you always get back to outcomes anyway.
NFC: You talk about a school "system." Is it really
a system and do we apply systems theory to our school
Stewart: That's one of the things
I've been trying to think about. In fact, we had a
retreat for our board and I said we should think about
systems. For example, if we want something to happen,
where does the decision need to get made in order to have
that happen? You also need to know more about how the
system works and what's going on, too. I have on my bed
side my reading material which includes Senge's "The
Fifth Discipline" and his workbook, too.
NFC: With your background in microbiology you're
also looking at systems there.
Actually, that's one of the pieces that got me interested
in the School for Managing. I had gone to a conference
and had listened to a guy named Fritjof Capra, who talks
about the web of life and he's very interested in
ecology. He talks about systems going from simple to
complex, all the interdependence and the interweaving and
redundant systems. That from my background makes a lot of
sense. Then I listened to Myron Kellner-Rogers who picked
up some of the same material.
NFC: How do you see these systems theories being
translated to what's going on at Sequoia Union?
Stewart: People keep hearing about systems and
redundant thinking and redundant systems, too.
Personally, I pretty much walk my talk. I get out to the
schools a lot and talk to people and find out what's
happening. That's one way to live in the system. And the
other is from the district level, the board sets the
vision and then has other people react and work with
that. After the vision is set, you have to let go to some
extent. But you also have to be involved enough that if
it's starting to head off in some direction that's not
useful you ask a question or two to help correct
NFC: So part of it is learning to let
Stewart: I think to some extent. I read
a recent article which talked about people growing up in
two ways - those of us grew up in control and wanting to
get things done are the ones in command in the top of the
organizations. That's sort of my group. And individuals
who grew up in compliant environments and do what other
people ask them to do. The top takes so much
responsibility and the bottom doesn't take enough. That
to me makes a heck of a lot of sense.
That's also one reason I thought school-based decision
making would help to even out the balance of control and
power. In addition, I feel there's a lot of comment in
the public that schools and teachers need to be more
accountable. That makes sense to me. Along with letting
go at the top. We need to help other people within the
system understand that.