A YEAR AND A HALF AGO, school administrators in Memphis, Tennessee, faced with many of the same fiscal, enrollment, racial and achievement problems plaguing public schools elsewhere in the country, decided to turn to the private sector for help. I wasn't money they were after. It was experise -- specifically expertise in management.
An organization of young executives called Futre Memphis, Inc. responded by sending several volunteer businessmen into the system to analyze what should be done. The result was a proposal for a three-year program to train about 500 supervisory personnel, from assistant principals on up, in basic management techniques like planning, goal setting, leadership, time and stress management, self-assessment, program evaluation. The Memphis schools adopted the proposal and in June completed its first six-month phase, offering intensive two-day training sessions to supervisory personnel.
With today's schoold requrired to juggle an arry of activities ranging from programs for the learning disabled to special art courses, and elaborate transportation arrangements, not to mention serving breakfasts and lunches, some educators are turning to business and management as models for dealing with it all.
"Those of us in education have not been exposed to management course as business students have," says Gene Olds, assistant superintendent for personnel and staff development in Memphis. "But we're finding we're just as big as an industry. The same management skills that make businessmen successful can make principals and administrators successful."
Olds, and others convinced that the management training concept can work, point to recent research into what constitutes an effective school. On crucial element is a strong principal who is a good le3ader and a skillful adminstrator.
"That kind of leadership ability can be taught," says Bascom Talley III, a director of the American Management Association, a nonprofit corporation that trains businessmen, Association, a nonprofit corporation that trains businessmen, public employees and, more and more often these days, school administrators in the basics of management.
In fact, training for school administrators like that being done in Memphis seems to be the latest trend in "staff developoment" -- just as sensitivity workshops and human relations seminars were a decade ago. Its propoenents emphasize that while it may not remedy all the ills of public education, it can produce positive result. The purpose of using sound management techniques in industry is ultimately to manufacture more and better widgets, cars, ball bearings, whatever. Using sound management techniques in schools, say supporters, should eventually result in higher student achievement, which can be measured in improved test scores.
In the meantime, school superintendents with experience in management training are giving it credit for helping to solve a variety of problems. Edward Feeney, superintendent in Prince George's County where training course have been part of staff development for eight years, says they have served the system well during a time when 43 schools have been closed, the schools' administrative budget has dropped by $1.4 million during the two fiscal years, '81 and '82, and enrollments have declined drasticxally (over 24 percent since 1972).
"Students are more positive. Attendance is up and teacher evaluations are up," says Feeney. "Teachers are coming to these special in-service training course, after hours, in droves."
Elizabeth Wildberger, a librarian at Phyllis E. William elementary school in Largo, is one of those teachers convinced that the benefits of management courses can filter down to students. Wildberger says she uses the techniques of planning and evalutaiton to develop science and social studies courses at the school, which has elected not to use standardized texts in those subjects.
"It is the most exciting thing," she said enthusiastically. Once teachers have a clear idea of their objectives and how to achieve them, and have conveyed to the students what their own responsibilites are, "the students come alive!"
So far, it's too early to tell in Memphis what effect management training is having. But it's been a morale boost and has already improved the climate between the school administration and its unionized teachers, according to Olds.
In Milwaukee, training for administrators, which has been underway for six years, is already yielding positive results, according to school superintendent Lee McMurrin.
"Basically, good managment is working through others to accomplish goals. It means settingpriorities, delegating authority, developing planning strategies, setting deadlines and getting results," said McMurrin. "As for result, we're not stringing beads. We set a goal that our students should grow one year every school year. They did. We have now set as a goal that every child must grow more than one year in reading and in math. We can achieve that."
Another of McMurrin's goals is to establish an institute of management within the school system, an approach adopted in Detroit, and in Dade County, Florida, where the school system's Management Academy is beginning its third year of operation.
"We try to teach administrators how to 'manage' schools. ythey go to colleges and universities and in those schools no one teaches them how to manage -- budgets, people, planning, how to control and evaluate people, how to resolve conflict," said Phyllis Cohen, who directs the academy.
During the past year there were about 200 training session at the academy for most of the Dade County system's 800 administrative personnel.
"The workshops are customized," said Cohen, "based on a self-assessment by the administrators themselves. This year they wanted help in learning how to evaluate school programs, techniques of appraising teachers and evaluating performance, and also budgeting."
The American Association for School Administrators, headquarterd in Northern Virginia, reports that management course are becoming popular among its 18,000 members, most of them principals and supervisory school personnel. "They are faced with short money, more union negotiations with teachers, more accountability. Management is becoming more important for them," said Louis Zeyen, the deputy executive director.
If the bottom line for all this management training is supposed to be higher student achievement, the next to bottom line is administrative and teacher performance. In theory, teachers will do a better job if they are led well by their principals and know exactly what is expected of them in the classroom. In Alexandria, where management training for school personnel made its debut this past year with a new superintendent, Robert Peebles, administrative staff attended intensive workshops. At the year's end each administrator was given a job performance assessment, by his or her superiors and staff. Pay increases were then based on performance reviews.
"Some people wwere impressed that a differentiation was made and they didn't get as much because they didn't do as well on the review," said John DuVal, assistant superintendent for personnel.
Still, according to DuVal, reaction to the program has been positive, although many people have found it to be extremely time-consuming.
Management training doesn't come cheaply. A two-day custom-designed management training seminar conductd by the AMA for 25 administrators will cost a school system around $4,500. The budget for Dade County's Management Academy runs around $500,000 a year (out of the county's $600 million school budget).Running the first six months of the Memphis program cost about $40,000 according to Olds -- all of it supplied through foundation grants, contributions from local business and some federal money. "We couldn't cut teachers out of classrooms to fund this," said Olds.
McMurrin in Milwaukee says that in the era of the austere school budget, cost is one of the main impediments to his goal of a management institute. And he, too, is looking outside the system for funds to run it. His argument in favor of management training for his staff is simple. "In difficult times you need the best."