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What I want in a superintendent (10/12/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

The Winona Public Schools Dist. 861 is asking the public for input on what we want in a new superintendent. The Dist. 861 teachers are also being asked what they would like in a new leader. What would I like, I wondered, and found a few things that top my list.

1. I would like a superintendent who is aghast at the poor scores our children ó and the stateís children ó are making in testing reading and math progress. Although our elementary students are achieving at a better rate than in years past, around 20% of third and fourth graders are not passing. If past scores hold, most likely the vast majority of these children are getting free or reduced lunches, meaning they are from low-income families, or they come from families where the first language is not English.

But public education in the United States has always been charged with teaching all the children, not just upper middle class English speakers, to be literate and numerate. There is great temptation to blame these childrenís families for their failure. But if that is the case, arenít we admitting defeat? Arenít we saying there is no way for children from unfortunate circumstances to ever achieve the American Dream? Thatís not what our forefathers thought. Thatís not what Abe Lincoln thought, or our great-grandparents thought.

Public education must address this problem, school by school, student by student. The national teachers union has pronounced No Child Left Behind a ďfailure.Ē How did it become a failure? By showing hard data that proves that our most disadvantaged children, and many of our children who have every advantage, it would seem, are failing. In Winona Public Schools, 64% of our eighth graders ó more than twice the number of non-English speakers and impoverished children ó have not met expectations in math. Over 30% of our tenth graders have not met expectations in reading.

I want a superintendent who will find those numbers unacceptable and move to correct our childrenís education.

2. I would also like a superintendent who isnít coming here to build a new building. We have plenty of buildings. In fact, the school board thought we had one too many. So, no new building. But we need a superintendent who will continue the work of Paul Durand, followed by Scott Hannon, who encouraged teachers, who leapt at the chance, to improve the look of their elementaries. Now we have plants gracing the front entries, gardens that can also be used as learning opportunities, and schools we can be proud of.

3. I would like a superintendent who could somehow change the climate of our schools so that every staff member is as cheerful and child-friendly as the large majority of our elementary teachers. I would like a superintendent who could ferret out (just ask parents) the teachers who find children annoying, especially children with behavior or learning disabilities. And then those teachers should be invited to leave. Our kids are in school most of their waking hours. They deserve to spend it with people who like them and want them to be successful.

4. I would like a superintendent who is in tune with what the community can afford. We donít need to be constantly compared to richer communities and made to feel we arenít doing enough for our teachers. We donít need to be threatened that if we donít pay more our best teachers will leave (do they ever?). I would like a superintendent who can parlay an honest conversation between teachers and the community about what exactly our resources are ó and not just the community members with the most to spend, who also have the time to lobby the schools and volunteer at the schools.

5. Finally, I would like a superintendent who sees all of our educational entities, public and private, as in the same business, and who will foster sharing with those facilities that is good for all our children and the entire community. I would want our superintendent to meet on a regular basis with the universities and other schools to talk about education, and how to get even the poorest of our students to be able to achieve the best in our society.



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