We're hearing a lot lately about the different restructurings that will be taking place at schools all across DC this summer -- specifically, faculty and staff at several schools will undergo reconstitution, meaning that everyone is fired and has to reapply for their jobs. The concept of reconstituting a school -- shutting it down and hiring all new employees for the next year -- was also discussed in a recent article in the NY Times. Reconstitution might seem to make a lot of sense -- it shakes up the school and provides a catalyst for change. But there are definitely problems. The article writes,
Randi Weingarten, president of one of the unions, the American Federation of Teachers, said Mr. Duncan’s focus on the worst schools was “the right strategy,” but added, “What I’ve raised with Arne is, wholesale firing of staffs, pretending that if you just close a school and open a new one it will solve all the problems — that’s the wrong way.”
Holy crap, I agree with Randi Weingarten.
My school underwent reconstitution last year, and I definitely do think that it has made an improvement in the quality of teaching and learning going on in our building. That said, my school has not made the kind of rapid turnaround that the article talks about. Like most comprehensive DC High Schools, my school is still chaotic and violent, and children are not performing as they should. I think a lot of that has to do with the leadership involved, at both the school and district levels. My principal does not do as much as she should to support teachers -- she's rarely in classrooms or the halls. For her part, Rhee does not seem to be effectively prodding her principals to adopt better practices. She mostly just seems to be firing principals over test scores.
While reconstitution can be helpful, it demands an incredibly strong and radical leader -- someone who is really willing and able to do things differently. Until we have such leaders in place, we're just shuffling around teachers, causing chaos for students. Unless our principals are highly effective, committed, and armed with clear visions, reconstitution will just be for show.
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