On Oct. 28, 1981, a dozen school superintendents from this region emerged from D.C. School Superintendent Floretta McKenzie's office and stepped into a prearranged press conference. Supporting Washington's superintendent, they took a united stand opposing tuition tax credits and in particular a referendum that was being presented to the city's voters at the time. As it turned out, the proposal for tuition tax credits was overwhelmingly defeated. But more significant was the unanimity of the school superintendents, and the potential of such an alliance for the future.
The same group held a press conference last November, to kick off American Education Week -- and here, too, the statements and responses of superintendents to questions struck a positive tone that signified a change from the defensive positions that characterized public schools over the past decade.
Metropolitan collaboration in education is, for the most part, a dream unrealized. In contrast to other large metropolitan areas, Greater Washington is one of the more active examples of regional cooperation. Under the title of Washington Area School Study Council, these 12 school systems represent about as wide a diversity as one could imagine:[TABLE OMITTED]
How can such a conglomerate of school systems ever collaborate? Well, we do, and in tangible ways. Washington is the focal point and it is helpful to have Virginia and Maryland jurisdictions when it comes to learning about state plans and problems.
Meeting regularly--at least six times a year-- the superintendents share information on such complex issues as employee contracts, desegregation plans, school closings, curriculum development and testing programs. Rather than yielding to the old pattern of local isolation, the superintendents have been showing a willingness, even an eagerness, to collaborate and tackle the more difficult matters in education. What may have worked well for one system is shared with the others, sometimes leading to resolutions of problems.
Other examples of this metropolitan collaboration include the Metropolitan Area Boards of Education and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. COG brings together city and county managers and superintendents from the metropolitan area to share information and to consider such ideas as joint bidding on supplies and metropolitan planning. The coalition of school boards holds spring and fall meetings at which participating school systems can show off some of their more exciting programs as well as to share common problems.
What emerges is a clearer awareness of the possibilities for metropolitan approaches to regional education problems.
Such collaboration makes sense, and it's happening. Successful events are encouraging still more efforts. Superintendents come and go, but the Washington Area School Study Council continues to function. The opportunity to take still more advantage of this spirit is one that shouldn't be missed.