D.C. School Superintendent Floretta McKenzie yesterday unveiled a blueprint for improving the city's financially beleaguered school system through industry-assisted "computer literacy" programs for students, a leadership academy for school administrators and a proposal to lease vacant school buildings to the city government.
Speaking at an education seminar at the George Washington University, McKenzie told about 100 teachers and school administrators, "Whether we are involved with universities or public schools, we are being asked to maintain the status quo, or even do more, with less. My intention is not to lament this. We cannot think of ourselves as victims, because we are not. And our children deserve so much more."
McKenzie, who became superintendent here last July, called the school system "too labor intensive," adding that new technology should be used to streamline scheduling, teacher certification, record keeping and personnel recruitment, functions that are currently done manually.
"We are not trying to dehumanize our profession," she said. "Teaching remains the most human of all professions. But we are striving for efficiency, which means economy."
Saying that she wants to test the Reagan administration's commitment to get business, particularly large corporations, involved in education, the 45-year-old superintendent said more emphasis also should be placed on industry-sponsored computer technology in the classroom, and less on such courses as music, social science and what she called exploratory vocational education.
"There are too many companies in this area that are going to need people who can use and repair sophisticated equipment," she said. "We are not in the business of training people how to make cars."
Like most urban school systems, D.C. schools are also faced with severe budgetary problems and declining student enrollments. In an effort to come to grips with both, McKenzie said plans are under way to close underused schools and then lease the buildings to other city government agencies.
"Currently the city leases from private agencies when the school system is the largest landlord" within the city government, she said. "We must find ways to share our buildings with the city."
The continued loss of teaching jobs also has resulted in lower morale in the school system, McKenzie said. To help ease the problem, a "leadership academy" for school administrators, designed to stimulate self motivation among teachers and students, is scheduled to begin early next year, she said.
McKenzie applauded the recent defeat here of the controversial tuition tax credit initiative, saying it was a sign of support by the voters for stronger public schools.
Recent Doonesbury cartoon strips about the trials and tribulations of school administrators, she said, "struck a nerve" with her.
"From my point of view," she said, "we are being put on the line. We have to begin looking at our institution's raison d'etre. We have to challenge every assumption. In the past we have been into things that have little to do with teaching. We know woefully little about the functions of the mind, but we know our children can learn and that they often learn in spite of us."
As part of her strategy for "helping them learn at a faster rate," McKenzie said more attention will be paid to standardized test scores, "no matter how painful they are to look at," as well as promotion and retention practices.
"The bottom line on how well we do will be represented in our students. Thus, there is no question about it: We will do more with less," she said.
McKenzie recalled the story of the man who was having a hamburger, milk shake and fries at a truck stop. Three motorcycle gang members came in, walked over to him, took a bite of his burger, sipped his shake and stole his fries. The man said nothing, paid for his meal and left.
"That's a poor excuse for a man," the waitress said to the cashier, to which the cashier replied while watching the man drive away, "He's a poor excuse for a truck driver, too. He just ran over three motorcycles."
"I say that to say this," McKenzie said to a roomful of laughter. "Sometimes it looks like we've been beat, but that's when you have to find other strategies."