FLORETTA MCKENZIE'S rousing performance before the city's teachers last week holds good prospects for what is to come in the District school system. The new superintendent is outdistancing her potential opponents and critics before any battle begins by asking them if she can join with them to form one team with one goal: improving the schools. Her approach is welcome in a school system that has been under an unrelenting crush of criticism in recent years. Much of the criticism has been (and is) warranted, but when it stymies progress, then some balance needs to be restored. Mrs. McKenzie's creative display of music and plays--all with the message that teachers can make a difference--is a first step in restoring that balance.
The other distinctive aspect of Mrs. McKenzie's approach is that she is expressing large confidence in the teachers' ability to teach. She is urging them to use whatever talents or ideas they may have to get the job of teaching done. This is a change from Superintendent Vincent E. Reed's approach of back-to-basics, which had all teachers in the school system under tight rein, urging them to go by the book and follow one teaching method. How much her change in emphasis will affect the Competency Based Curriculum only the future will tell. The District schools surely needed some regimentation in teaching when CBC was introduced. And CBC has certainly helped to settle down a school system that had gone through nearly a dozen temporary and permanent superintendents in the past decade, each with his own reading program and his own approaches to math, among other things. Mrs. McKenzie will have to be a careful judge of how stable the system is now and whether it can tolerate some return to granting teachers more discretion to teach by their own methods.
Finally, there is the matter of how many of the city's teachers are good teachers. Changes in standards for teacher certificates and changes in what can be required of teachers in continuing their education now make it more difficult than ever to control teacher quality. This is a subject that will have to be dealt with in contract talks now taking place. Mrs. McKenzie would do well to win a more complete evaluation procedure. If a principal has some way to pick out inadequate teachers, and either help them or get rid of them, then that principal is in a better position to take responsibility for the quality of the education being delivered at his school.
With principals accountable for their schools, the superintendent can keep a better line on how the public schools are doing and determine if there are enough good principals and good teachers to do an adequate job of educating the city's children without imposing a mechanized format. If the teachers are good enough, then they should be able, as the T-shirt presented to Mrs. McKenzie at the rally Thursday put it, to "Go with the Flo."