Letters                                                                 Page 4


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Overlapping Superintendents
The magazine’s four portrayals of superintendents in their final year before retirement (November 2011) included two examples of the replacement superintendent coming aboard early, one for three months and a second for a year. I believe this is a serious error. There can be only one superintendent at a time.

Twice in my career I followed a retiring superintendent. In the first, I arrived officially the day after the superintendent retired, and all went well with my transition.

In the second instance, I reluctantly agreed to come on board as assistant superintendent for two months. This was a mistake. I was the new person without portfolio. I was pressed to deal with issues yet was not in charge and could not make any decisions. I came in as a lame duck for several months instead of being immediately recognized as the person in charge.

My advice? Don’t do it.

Retired superintendent,
Monroeville, Pa.

Critiquing ‘Value Added’
What I liked most about Elaine Weiss’s article, “The Elusive Value in ‘Value Added’” (October 2011), is how she illustrates the misconception that a test is an empirical silver bullet. There is no such thing as a perfect test.

Weiss outlines many legitimate variables to consider when going down that path. Individuals unfamiliar with the complexities of the art of teaching and all the variances cannot package it into an instrument to determine the effect of the teacher. Using a test instrument sounds really good on paper, so the public bites on the idea quite easily.

In addition to dismissing the myths, Weiss offers some excellent, practical alternatives to incorporate a systemic track ─ peer review, peer collaboration and professional development ─ for teacher improvement and accountability.

It’s kind of like one dentist looking inside the mouth of a child with a filling who tells the parent that the "other dentist” did a horrible job putting that filling in. The only problem with that assertion is that the current dentist did not realize that when that filling was completed, the child was kicking and screaming!

Yes, under ideal conditions and only under ideal conditions, can we make relevant comparisons between student test scores and teacher effectiveness.

Weiss’s insights confirm a lot of the practices I have gravitated to over the years through trial and error, mistakes and hard knocks. I’ve just not read an article like this that encompasses and articulates it so effectively.

Lane Elementary School District 22,
Lane, Okla.


Missing the Mark
I intend to share John Tanner’s excellent piece, “Missing the Mark: What Test Scores Really Tell Us” (October 2011) with faculty and board of education members. I want to use it to spark some debate and hopefully support my vision of improving test scores through acceleration, enrichment, physical education and the arts ─ not remediation and teaching to the test.

San Miguel Joint Union School District,
San Miguel, Calif.

One word summarizes John Tanner’s article: BINGO!

Bonita Elementary School District,
Willcox, Ariz.

John Tanner really nailed it!

More information on the same theme can be found at my organization’s website ( My book, Saving Students From a Shattered System, has a plan to fix the problem. Together we can get this mess straightened out!

Whole Child Education Reform
Milwaukee, Wis.

Hiring Entanglements
I plan to use your Michael Adamson’s column, “Misunderstanding a Conflict of Interest” (October 2011), in teaching my school finance course this semester.

Maintaining professionalism is a major part of what it takes to be successful as a superintendent or school board member. Not having worked in Indiana before coming to the university, I never experienced the situation he describes in his column, yet I have discovered the value of screening teams as part of a professional hiring process to avoid these sorts of entanglements.

Adamson’s willingness to put his experiences and understanding on paper is appreciated.

Clinical Professor of Education Leadership,
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis,
Indianapolis, Ind.

A Retiring Superintendent’s Lessons
Only a handful of superintendents are privileged enough or have time enough to have their final observations published. However, all superintendents, especially in their culminating years of service before retirement, may find it useful to reflect on their career in writing as I did.

Only a handful of superintendents are privileged enough or have time enough to have their final observations published. However, all superintendents, especially in their culminating years of service before retirement, may find it useful to reflect on their career in writing as I did.Only a handful of superintendents are privileged enough or have time enough to have their final observations published. However, all superintendents, especially in their culminating years of service before retirement, may find it useful to reflect on their career in writing as I did.

Just before my last year began, my high school principal handed me a blank notebook and said, “I have learned much from your mentoring and guidance. I’d like to refer to it for years to come. Please write your thoughts down, and come June give them to me as your parting gift.”

I did as he asked, not just for him but for myself as well. Nearly every day, I managed to write a brief thought or two. Some were wholly original, some were borrowed and cited, but all of them attempted to provide just a bit of advice or perspective to future school executives.

Superintendents find it so difficult to spend time digesting their experiences as leaders. My last-year journal really helped me consider what I learned from a professional lifetime. Maybe doing the same can help others think constructively about their years of service to children.

Here are some samples from each month:

August: Most of our days and time are spent managing details, reacting to the immediate concerns of others, and trying to keep things on an even keel. But behind all of it there has to be a bigger picture, a grander plan. Without it there is no enduring purpose to what we do. Always think you way back to the bigger picture because that’s what will matter in the long run.

September: I want to see schools that are truly communities of learners where learning for adults is just as important as learning for children. Like their students, teachers and other adults in schools learn valuable lessons from one another. They can be role models not just for children but for each other. Learning constantly gives them the nourishment they need to renew their instruction and attitudes. When teachers, other school staff, and their students learn together, then together they have great potential to build a culture that reflects mutual understanding, compassion and maturity.

October: Technology demands patience and curiosity. Patience because it’s usually complicated and it won’t work well consistently. Curiosity because to get it to work you have to be bold enough to find it why it won’t by experimenting.

November: Integrity and character may be abstractions, but they travel well and carry plenty of power and potency within the surprisingly small circles of communication in the field of school administration. People pretty well know who has these attributes, and who doesn’t.

December: There is a mountain of questionable advice out there from psychologists among others. For example, John Medina, in his book Brain Rules, writes that our brain won’t pay attention to boring things. However, it does focus mainly on three things: sex, threats, and pattern-making. So what’s it going to be today?

January: Parents will lambaste you and threaten by phone (typically, saying you will hear from my attorney, or I am calling Channel 4 News). Voice-mail messages are the preferred method. Call their bluff. Require a face-to-face meeting and the picture will change considerably. You don’t deserve, and you don’t have to accept abuse.

February: When you try to solve problems that few people yet see as such, it’s called interfering, not leading. The initiative is seldom appreciated. People don’t want problems solved until they are ready to see the problem and want to do something about it.

March: One of the most useful, illustrative ways to get your message across is to use artifacts because they tell a story, and they give you, as presenter, something clear to connect your mind to.

April: Superintendents should never expect anyone ever to thank them sincerely for anything they do. When it happens, regard it as a surprise. It is a rare bonus. Yet ironically it is a key part of every superintendent’s job to thank everyone else for what they do. But to expect it will be given to you? Don’t expect. Welcome it, be gracious, but don’t expect.

May: Delay is by no means just the deadliest form of denial. It can be one of the best available strategic tools for gaining perspective, allowing tempers to cool, and allowing ideas to mature. Delay gives you time to think things through. And oftentimes, problems will resolve themselves without your having to make a decision or to act at all.

June: Understand there are so many things you can only learn through experience. There are no magic wands, and no silver bullets. You can be a leader in the end only by being yourself – by relying on your own personality or dispositions. Because if you don’t, others will see through you pretty darned quick. The so-called secrets of being a leader lie inside yourself, and if not learnable from scratch, at least they can be drawn out with some practice, trial, and error.

Retired Superintendent,
Yorkshire, N.Y.

A Practical Solution
John Fitzsimons’ well-written article, “Adding Instructional Time at No Greater Cost” (November 2011), suggests a creative way to maximize the time on task during a school day.

Education needs more cost-saving and instruction-enhancing practical solutions.

Assistant Principal,
Lawrence Middle School,
Lawrence, N.Y.

Demise of Bilingual Instruction
I found great insight in Daniel Domenech’s Executive Perspective column (May 2011) regarding the devolution (I would say destruction) of bilingual education in the United States. His message confirms what I have observed during my 30-plus years in education in California and echoes what I have been saying since I began teaching nearly 20 years ago as an adjunct professor at a nearby university.

I am delighted there is a voice much stronger than mine that continues to tell the truth about the immorality of the (lack of) education of our English learners. I am sure Domenech has many stories, as do I, regarding the misconceptions, half-truths, lies, ignorance, simple-mindedness and prejudice of politicians and the public that shroud the issues surrounding bilingual education. Why, indeed, would anyone oppose teaching a child in a language they understand best, especially because it would be so much easier, more effective and less costly than what is taking place now.

I’m reminded that Yugoslavia, under the dictator Tito, had a thriving bilingual program with a moral imperative to teach students in their strongest language as they learned the second one.

I’m reminded also of a day when I was in my youth hitchhiking with a French youth through Germany. A dump truck stopped to give us a ride. The French boy climbed in first, I was next to the door. I observed the driver, a large man weighing some 350 pounds, pull out a huge sausage, about the size of my forearm, and start eating it. I nudged the French lad and laughed, commenting on the stereotypical image of Germans the driver presented. The French companion told me to hush, that the man could possibly understand English. I looked at him in disbelief and said, “Oh come on. A dump truck driver?”

At that moment the dump truck driver turned to us and asked us in perfect English where we wanted to be dropped off. This dump truck driver, most likely, studied all his core material, throughout his 12 years of school, in his first language and, most likely, started learning English in kindergarten and studied it every day for some 12 years. Of course we can do this, and we can grow our own bilingual teachers by teaching kids in bilingual education programs.

Academic Vocational Charter Institute,
Watsonville, Calif.


Letters should be addressed to:
School Administrator,
1615 Duke St.,
Alexandria, VA 22314
Fax: 703-841-1543



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