Vincent E. Reed, the District's recently retired school superintendent, brought stability to a system in a state of turmoil. Now we are faced with the awesome task of looking for a new superintendent. I hope the board of education is not so narrow-minded as to exclude those candidates from outside the system.
The board should look for the best person available, regardless of ethnic background, race, creed or color. We need a superintendent who is innovative, administratively astute and courageous enough to recruit assistance from people who have demonstrated ability and who share the same goals.
It is unfortunate that your system wasted almost 20 years miseducating our children before it finally raalized -- after all of the frills and experimental teaching techniques -- that the basic skills were essential. this miseducation was shockingly apparent after the first-semester test of the pupils in Grades 1 through 3. Appproximately 10,000 youngsters in those grades failed to demonstrate minimum competencies and had little or no mastery of basic skill objectives. Students in all grades throughout the system have been allowed to move progressively up the educational ladder, thus multiplying their deficiencies. By the time children reach the fourth or fifth grade, school has become a bore -- a place of frustration and a threat to their ego. Young minds quickly learn how to avoid these discomforts and the accompanying embrarrassment by planning escape alternatives: truancy, fighting, stealing and dropping out of school. We must eliminate the procedures that perpetuate student attitudes of inferiority and hopelessness.
A new superintendent must reexamine the present regional structure of our schools, which has been responsible for some of the lack of communication and poor performance between the elementary, junior and senior high school levels. At present, our system is divided into four regions, each consisting of a number of elementary, junior and senior highs. In the regional structure, an assistant superintendent is required to be adequately knowledgeable and effectively proficient in successfully supervising and promoting educational excellence and progress on all levels. This promotes administrative incompetence. Each regional assistant superintendent has beome a guarded protector of his domain. This arrangement has also placed too many constraints on principals, teachers and directors who want to transfer from one region to another. This structure leaves too many schools without effective educational programs other than those established by a well-organized principal.
If the regional structure were abolished and separate elementary, junior and senior high levels were established, with competent assistant superintendents, I am sure there would be remarkable improvement in our school management, programs and educational achievement. Each level assistant superintendent would have the authority and responsibility to initiate effective management procedures; existing departments in areas such as building and grounds, personnel, curriculum, payroll, etc., would be organized by levels as well.
An effective school superintendent also must develop ways to asses teachers' performances more accurately and consistently from school to school. We have many good to outstanding teachers, but we also have many who need to upgrade their skills. The practice of hiring teachers who had a degree but who had not taken any type of competency teachers' examination began in the 1960s. Those teachers hired were not required then and are not required now to take courses periodically to up-grade their knowledge or their skills. The cry was that such tests were unfair because a large number of blacks were failing them. We did not want to admit that blacks were poorly prepared -- even though we were willing to accept the fact that most blacks were receiving an inferior education. (The majority of blacks who had been educated in private schools or in top-rated public schools, and who then graduated from recognized colleges and universities, were able to pass teachers' exams with the same frequency as whites.) We can ill afford to repeat those mistakes by hiring people with questionable credentials.
We must also establish high standards and challenge students to reach them. For those students still in school -- those who have been educationally shortchanged by a misguided system but who have managed to endure -- a strong tutoring and remedial program must be offered to assist them. Even though I am a strong advocate that bright and gifted students should not have their potential thwarted because of slower students, I cannot accept an academic high school until we build or establish a separate motivational school for underachievers. Those students who need help are far more likely to drop out and in turn become a problem in our society than are the gifted.
Any effective superintendent mus have a board of education composed of citizens whose main interest is education instead of confrontation. A young man wisely stated at a recent board meeting that the community and our children deserve more than "street dudes" or "hypothetical activists" to serve on our board of education.
Members of the board should be screened by an ad hoc committee composed of community persons and educators. The function of this committee would be to listen to candidates and to select and endorse a slate. We must no longer allow an individual whose only qualifications are that he or she is warm-blooded, loquacious and blessed with a grift of rhetoric to erode our educational system. A respectable and representative concerned citizens' committee could help guide the electorate by endorsing a slate based on educational commitment, experiences in D.C. public schools and past performance in related education programs. We have gone through six superintendents in the past 12 years. It's high time we get about our commitment to education in this city.