As one who has worked with almost all the superintendents and many of our Clarke County schools over the past 40 years, let me offer some suggestions about district leadership during this tumultuous time in our school district.
This is a time in Athens when school principalships seem to be revolving-door appointments, and the school board and former superintendent have been constantly at one another. When such disputes arise within our district, teachers, who devote their lives to doing what is best for children, are left on the outside, shaking their heads at what appears to be a circus of confusion and conflict. However, please know that being a school board member and district officer is hard and challenging work, but it is not as hard and challenging as being a classroom teacher trying to help every child, every day.
A veteran teacher friend of mine recently summed up his own despair with these words: “Why is it so difficult for people outside the classroom, including you folks from the university, to understand that we know at least as much about our students and ways to improve teaching as you do. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen these great ideas come and go. Each administration’s reform dumps more work on us, and I’m still left with 125 students a day, working under the conditions that I had 20 years ago. Each new idea that comes down from on high takes away from my teaching, and today I’m being forced to teach in ways that I know are not in the best interest of students.” This teacher isn’t a doomsayer; he’s a sensible, reasonable person who cares about his students. He doesn’t look for ways to make his job easier; instead, he looks for ways to do more for his students.
John Lewis has urged us to forge a beloved community guided by those who eschew the spotlight and work tenaciously to bring out the best in others. My colleague Maurice Daniels refers to these folks as the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. When we search for a new superintendent, we do not need a savior, riding in to save our children through edicts and authoritarian control. Instead, we need a wise and humble person who understands the needs of our students and brings stability, purpose and dignity to the local elementary, middle and high school communities—principals, teachers, parents and community members— to make their own collaborative decisions about the best ways to teach and be accountable for their actions. No saviors need apply.
Glickman is professor emeritus of education at the University of Georgia.
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