It is with great sorrow that I have witnessed the unfolding of the drama of the D.C. Board of Education versus Superintendent of Schools Andrew Jenkins. Resolving the problems of the District schools so that students learn, stay in school, develop social, civic and cultural values, and are prepared for the rigors of post-secondary life is no small order for any individual. The problems of the D.C. schools did not arise with Dr. Jenkins, nor will they be resolved with him. The issue is not the man, but the kind of positive results that can be achieved for our children -- results that have become lost in the present discussion concerning Dr. Jenkins and his performance as superintendent.
I had hoped that the Jenkins tenure would wind to a respectful close with Dr. Jenkins having done his best and with the board having evaluated his efforts and, on this basis, having decided to renew or not to renew his contract. Instead of letting the board make this decision as part of its elected function, the issue has been thrown into raucous public debate.
Several months ago when the issue of his continuance was under consideration, the board kowtowed to a small but vocal group of parents who supported the superintendent. Most vocal among these parents were those who had lobbied Dr. Jenkins successfully for greater infusion of African history and culture into our school curriculum.
This week, as the board again prepared to meet on this issue, the forces of support for Dr. Jenkins began to rally. This time, however, these forces have triggered a decisive backlash among previously silent members of the community such as myself. Attempts on the part of Dr. Jenkins' allies within the school system to pressure school administrators to leave their posts and rally at the board meeting to decide his future are anti-education and detrimental to the interests of our children. Their education -- not saving the job of one man -- is the primary concern. Dr. Jenkins' supporters do him great harm, and in so doing call into question their capacities to undertake the education of our children. Worse still, if this was done at Dr. Jenkins' bidding, then he committed an egregious act for which he deserved to be deposed.
For community supporters who link efforts to infuse the African heritage into the curriculum with Dr. Jenkins' continuance, be advised: the notion is much bigger than he alone and will continue without him. The greater issue is one of responsiveness and accountability within our schools.
Our present competency-based curriculum does not prepare our children for competitiveness in a world where high-level thinking skills, not basic skills, will carry the day. There is need for greater rigor throughout the curriculum and expansion of required courses to include world history -- a definite place to peg any revision of history that reflects the rich heritage of African peoples.
Whereas our schools and curriculum should be reformed, our needs are much more immediate and basic. We need qualified teachers in every classroom every day. Sadly, this is not always the case. Too many of our classrooms are staffed with substitutes, aides and volunteers. Our school personnel system has been rife with delay and barriers to getting and keeping qualified staff in our schools.
Many of our school administrators spend too much time overseeing maintenance and renovations rather than on academic concerns. Too often the root of many problems in the schools is tied to poor management at the District level and the lack of administrative will to support and facilitate the education needs of our children.
Our next superintendent must be an education visionary who can devise and communicate a coherent plan for the public education of the children of the District. More than this, however, he or she must be a good manager who exacts results from all staff and who is willing to excise dead weight where it exists. The parents, community, school administration and the Board of Education must now cut our losses and press ahead with a new resolve that is based on positive results -- not personalities, power and politics.
GLENDA PARTEE Co-Chair Parents United for D.C. Public Schools Washington