As a first-year teacher in a Jordan District Junior High School, I was barely one page ahead of the students. With one week into the first term I had almost exhausted the bright ideas accumulated in five years earning a bachelor's degree.
During the still warm days of autumn, the school's lawn still needed to be mowed. The mower sounded like my '50 Chevy after I lost the muffler and the noise resounded in my classroom like it would in a gothic cathedral. Wasn't it enough that I could hardly think when it was quiet? Did the lawn need to be mowed under my open window while my class was in session?This was a job for the principal. I pled my case. "Couldn't the custodian mow the lawn before or after school? Perhaps there is time during the school lunch break or maybe weekend mowing would contribute to a good educational environment."
The principal was kind but firm. "You are a new teacher and have to learn how things are done in the schools. History teachers are a dime a dozen, but a good custodian is hard to find." He also said that I should reconsider my reference to the class and room as "mine." I had to admit that the school was very tidy but the real question was "who runs this place anyhow." It sounded to me like the custodian may be above the principal on the organization chart. Who really decides what goes on in the school is probably the most serious question in our educational enterprise.
In a recent public hearing called by the South Sanpete School Board, a consultant reported to the public the results of a study that had been requested by the Utah State Legislature. The study was required in school districts where district consolidation seemed to be a possible money-saving option.
The idea was to invite a third party to study the consolidation issue and report to school patrons, district and state officials, as well as the legislature.
In the course of the hearing a parent asked the consultant about his credentials. This patron indicated that maybe parents "right here in River City" were being told how to fix something by a consultant whose Gary, Ind., credentials entitled him to use the think method. The question is fair. Who should decide how the schools are organized?
The parent then asked about the credentials of the superintendent. "Is it true that one needs no business experience to run this million dollar enterprise?" The answer is that school administrators probably go beyond the expertise of many business people in operating the educational enterprise because of the complex system society has devised to finance schools. The question is a fair one however. Who should manage the schools?
What makes the question so difficult is that everyone is in charge. Almost everyone has experience as a consumer of services in the educational system and may have observed 30 or so teachers by the time they graduate from high school. In addition to the opinions generated about schools during this experience, the people who are a product of the experience are required to finance the educational system for succeeding generations.
Add to the consumers and stockholders a school board elected to represent the consumers, a cadre of professionals trained to teach, people trained to administer and everyone is in charge. And everyone in charge has a vested interest.
Although it is tempting to say that when everyone is in charge that no one is in charge, the facts will remain the same. We are all in charge. We all care deeply about an excellent and efficient educational system. The future of individuals and our democratic society is at stake.
Perhaps instead of spending time debating the who is in charge issue, students, parents, board members and educators should take the approach that since all want a say then all will have it. Even though all have a say there is only one professional on the list of the concerned that meets students and must account for the achievement of some educational objective.
Perhaps we need to keep talking and proposing, not with the intent of getting things done our way, but with the intent of contributing to a solution to educational issues by supporting those on the front lines that meet our children daily. The solution to educational issues will clearly be a compromise and perhaps we can all together make better decisions than if we put somebody in charge.