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Structural/Systemic vs. Nurturing Good People

Posted By: Stephen Strahs on July 29, 2004
This volume seems to provide further evidence that there's no single formula for school reform, especially at the system level. However, the review leaves us with the perspective that systemwide ways of doing things, presumably including problematic interactions with various school constituencies, can can somehow be overcome by people with the "right stuff." The question I pose is whether a heavy-handed top-down orientation at the central office level really can be overcome by good competent people striving to make change.

I student-taught last year at two high schools in Philadelphia (Paul Vallas's current home), where principals were often reduced to observing or complying with the implementation of seemingly arbitrary directives of professionals descending on them from the central office. If the principals were at times taken by surprise or forced to move in directions that they thought were counterproductive, you can imagine how teachers felt. The problems with "fixing" school discipline, climate and other issues by fiat are, at minimum, that 1)the central office tends to have little knowledge about the specific contexts of individual schools and 2)that a noncollaborative approach almost always raises questions of buy-in, no matter how terrific the proposed solution. Can we just assume that competent well-intentioned people at the school level can overcome well-intentioned but uninformed and often wrong decisions promulgated at the district level? Or does the central office need to have a more complex systemic view to drive effective change?
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 Structural/Systemic vs. Nurturing Good People by Stephen Strahs on July 29, 2004
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