The Lords of Tweed possess the reverse Midas touch – they can turn gold into dross.
Park West was a troubled high school that had fallen on hard times. The entering classes were all level one and level two kids (below the State standard), forty percent overage and many had not chosen the school. The building was constructed with wonderful culinary arts kitchens: half of them were closed.
The school received a three year federal grant to reform their instructional program. The Chapter Leader, Bob McCue and Frank Brancato the Principal investigated programs all over the country. Bob is a great teacher and a caring human being; he is a wonderful example of teacher union leader. His chapter meetings are well attended and vigorous. The school chose the John Hopkins Talent Development Model, hired Frank Smith, a well respected former Columbia University professor and started making progress.
In spite of their efforts the State Ed Department placed Park West on the SURR list (Schools Under Registration Review) in January, 2003. I served as the UFT member on the State Review Team, made up of Regional Superintendents from around the State. We spent four days carefully observing classes, interviewing kids, teachers, parents and administrators. The school was making slow but steady progress. On the last day of the SURR visit the Team Leader makes a detailed oral report to the staff. We told the staff we would not be recommending redesign, the closing of the school, but did recommend a restructuring of the supervisory responsibilities.
A few months later the Manhattan High School Superintendent, a contender for one of the new Regional Superintendent positions placed the school into redesign, closing the school, and announced that Park West would be replaced with a number of small schools.
Three years later the small schools are struggling, hopefully they will succeed and many of the Park West teachers have been scattered to other schools.
Lo and behold: this year the Tweed masters decide that maybe creating 150 new schools in three years is a little too speedy and decide to wave their wand and impose Small Learning Communities, and, guess what: they mandate the John Hopkins Talent Development model.
At Park West a team of teachers, lead by their Chapter Leader and Principal spent months exploring possible approaches that would fit their school community: a sensible approach. This year Tweed simply imposes a program. Programs do not make for good schools. Schools of excellence are characterized by teams of teachers working with a school leader and making actual decisions that impact on the lives of the students in their schools.
Will they ever learn?