Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Scott D. Thomson's piece on leadership was informed and sensible ("Leadership Revisted," Commentary, Oct. 16, 1991). But one important topic still needs clarifying.
Mr. Thomson, like many other authorities, is prone to speak of schools as a unitary group of organizations, as if all of their innumerable faculties are at the same stage of development and competence. After this assumption, the authorities proceed to identify the optimum leadership style for the tens of thousands of separate schools that make up this aggregation.
Fortunately--or otherwise--our national aggregation of schools do not employ exactly similar faculties. Some faculties are sophisticated, dedicated, and open to intellectual engagement. At the other end of the spectrum, we have some faculties (hopefully, not too many--but surely some) that include high proportions of dead wood, cynical time servers, and clock watchers. It is ridiculous to propose one uniform style of leadership for such a diverse spectrum of institutions.
My experience convinces me that some schools in some situations need strong--authoritarian if you choose--leadership, while others-in very different situations--need very consensus-oriented leaders.
Furthermore, the leadership styles appropriate to different schools shift as their faculties and other circumstances change.
One aim of good principals should be to increase the viability of consensus approaches among their schools' faculties. But that increase may first mean that the principal has to clear out quite a bit of deadwood--through relying more on Machiavelli than simple persuasion.
One rule of thumb I have considered is that competent new principals, going to relatively imperfect schools, should assume that one-third of the faculty is already on their side, one-third can be converted, and one-third should be encouraged to find work elsewhere. After that, we can talk about consensus.
Edward A. Wynne
Professor of Education
University of lllinois at Chicago
To the Editor:
As executive principal of the largest senior high school in Houston (enrollment 3,800) I certainly agree that the most compelling issue facing schools is the success of individual students. There are some who have suggested that the notion schools stand for such success--and that we are all involved in schools for that purpose-is implicit. But the sad fact is that the condition of public schools in this country, and especially those in urban centers, is a result of the whole enterprise's losing sight of this primary function.
Restructuring is only the latest illustration of our penchant for quick fixes and panaceas. Yet this search for instant solutions has served to inhibit the ability of schools to meet their fundamental mission: providing the maximum opportunity for the personal and academic success of their constituents.
In the end, as Mr. Thomson has surmised, the success of the schools, as with any successful organization, will depend on the quality of leadership available. There is no substitute for leadership. Regardless of the unlimited number of new solutions proposed, the fundamental fact will always be that without the appropriate leaders, the organization will not move forward or survive.
Michael J. McClellan
Charles H. Milby Senior High School
To the Editor:
The interview with Karen Jost, who believes that high-school writing teachers should not write ("An 'Admittedly Heretical' Point of View on Teaching Writing," Focus On, Oct. 23, 1991), is probably not worth the space you gave it. Ms. Jost's own explanation of her feelings about trying to write assignments along with her students is powerful evidence to contradict her position. Many of her students, no doubt, had similar feelings about the writing assignments she gave them. They, too, probably felt "boxed in." If she had been able to recognize that her own frustration with writing was shared by her students, she would have been a more effective teacher.
Teachers who understand the process of writing "from the inside" are better able to deal with students who are struggling than are teachers who can only talk about the process from their dim memories of how it felt to write at some point in the past--perhaps as long ago as when they were students.
As a result of a published article, written when ! was a full-time high school English teacher, I became actively involved in several professional associations where I met many talented, committed teachers from whom I got new ideas and inspiration. I not only learned from the process of writing, I learned even more from the people I met because of my writing.
Ms. Jost should rethink her position.
Ann Wescott Dodd
To the Editor:
Thank you for your thorough article on the school-building program in Clark County, Nev. which includes Las Vegas ("Booming Las Vegas Hits Jackpot With $656-Million Building Plan," Oct. 16, 1991).
The Clark County schools should be commended for their work during the period of massive enrollment increases the district is encountering. The facilities staff has been creative in its approaches, diligent in its work, and protective of the public's dollars. Your article painted an excellent picture of a district's handling and delivery of 33 new schools and 20 major additions.
What is most important educationally is that the staff at Clark County schools realize they are building learning environments that will accommodate children for years to come. The facilities being developed are based on educational program beliefs and educational planning. Their development emphasizes the belief that the educational environment does in fact affect a student's ability to learn.
Construction of these schools has been a herculean task and has drawn much attention, but the basis for this construction is thorough educational planning. The district should be praised on both parts of the delivery process, because these efforts go hand in hand.
The opportunity Clark County has in providing new learning environments is one that is unmatched in our country. Many districts are experiencing growth, but perhaps none as dramatic.
Your article brought forth one of the strongest facility-planning programs our country has ever seen. Thank you for recognizing its importance.
Tony J. Wall
Council of Educational Facility Planners,
Vol. 11, Issue 10, Page 29