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School Boards

I want to take this opportunity to applaud the recent article by Dennis Evans titled "Eliminate School Boards'' [Viewpoint, April]. It took a bold professional to address this sensitive issue. I am an educator with 15 years of experience, the past five in public school administration as a principal, who has found great truth in Evans' statement: "The leadership and governance of schools should not be subject to the same political pressures, compromises, and deal-making that characterize local, state, and national levels of government.'' My personal experience is that many school boards and board members pay lip service to the concept of "putting children's interests first'' and make most of their decisions based on political influence and self-serving personal needs.

The traditional approach to school governance is no longer adequate to meet the needs of our technologically complex society. The majority of board members in the rural South are not adequately prepared to make the kinds of informed decisions needed to pave the way for restructuring the public schools. Many of them would turn back the clock of school reform instead of push forward for a better system and a more effective way of educating our children. True, many board members have the best intentions, but the system itself is archaic and no longer an effective means of operating schools.

I propose that the system be eliminated entirely or that boards be recast with the following makeup:

  • The district superintendent.
  • A principal selected by the principals within the district.
  • A secondary school teacher selected by the secondary teachers within the district.
  • An elementary school teacher selected by the elementary teachers within the district.
  • A classified, noncertified district employee selected by the staff.
  • A member of the community who has resided in the district for at least three years, has a child currently enrolled in the local schools, has a high school diploma and a minimum of two years of postsecondary education, and has agreed to attend 12 hours of inservice training annually.
  • A professional employee of the state education department who would be a liaison between the state and the local district and a voting board member.

Boards with this makeup would be prepared and informed to restructure the school systems of our country.
Ben Lewis
Principal Westside High School
Coal Hill, Ark.

A Good Choice

I would like to respond to the article "Unfriendly Fire'' in your April issue. I am a school teacher and a member of the National Guard. I do not think the military is the right choice for everyone, but the last time I checked, it was still a "choice.'' When you raise your right hand and sign on the dotted line, it is your decision to do so; the United States has not had the draft since the 1970s. When a person volunteers, they know what the bottom line is: They may have to put their life in jeopardy to serve their country.

The military offers opportunities and experiences that an individual cannot get anywhere else. I, for example, have traveled to South Korea three times as part of my military training, experiences I would not have had otherwise. The GI Bill has been a godsend for many individuals who otherwise could not have afforded college. I do not understand why Michael Marsh of the War Resisters League in New York is rejoicing over keeping a school from having a Junior ROTC program. From my point of view, the school would be lucky to have the program. I recently read Samuel Freedman's Small Victories. Throughout the book, Jessica Siegel, the featured teacher, puts down the military to her innercity students. I would think that if she cared for her students, she would portray the military as an opportunity for them to escape poverty, drugs, and the random violence of the inner city. As a teacher, she should be more objective. These people need to move out of the 1960s and quit viewing the U.S. Armed Forces as some great evil government agency.

As a teacher, I would like to see more money spent on education. But as an American and a member of the Armed Forces, I support a strong national defense. I do not see how letting recruiters come into high schools is some great sin. As anyone in the military will tell you, the standards to enter and stay in the military are getting higher. The military is no longer for the high school dropout.

In your article, Nancy Perry of the American School Counselor Association said it best: Schools should "neither push the military nor advise against it.''

The decision to join or not join the military should be the individual's and nobody else's. Those involved in the National Campaign to Demilitarize Our Schools could better benefit schools and students by volunteering to help in the schools rather than by campaigning against the military.
Name withheld upon request

Please Continue

In response to the letter from John Wilson [March], I, too, am a charter subscriber to Teacher Magazine and have consistently been delighted and professionally encouraged by the open, objective presentations in your publication. If, as Wilson suggests, this is "leftist political rhetoric,'' please continue.
Sheila Plummer
Fulton (Mo.) High School

Teach For America

I am in complete agreement with Arthur Wise when he states that there is no substitute for "improving the quality of the people who enter the profession.....'' and that "the best strategy for improving schools is improving the intellectual capital of those who staff them'' ["The Wise Approach,'' February]. However, I disagree with his subsequent comment that "programs like Teach For America may be well-intentioned but they damage the profession.''

Given Wise's preceding statements, it would seem that he is not as familiar with the goals and components of Teach For America as one would think. We believe that the future of our educational system depends in large part on the creativity, intellect, and drive of the people who staff the schools, and one of our primary objectives is to fundamentally impact the human resource pool of the public education system.

First and foremost, TFA mitigates teacher shortages in Chapter 1 areas. We have a proven ability to attract talented, dedicated individuals to teach children in urban and rural public schools that traditionally have been short on staff and resources. TFA responds to district needs by providing math and science teachers and foreign language and bilingual speakers. We also actively recruit people of color and male elementary-level teachers.

Teach For America recruits at 185 colleges and universities nationwide. By tapping into the diversity and talents of graduating seniors all over the country, and surrounding these teachers with an aura of selectivity and competitiveness, TFA hopes to elevate the image of teaching and change the American public's perception of the profession as downwardly mobile.

According to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the reasons given by teachers for leaving the profession within the first few years are low salaries, disciplinary problems with students, burnout, and frustration. While TFA cannot change teacher pay, it can provide novice teachers with professional, administrative, and emotional support during the all-toodifficult first year.

Toward this end, TFA has established local offices to provide corps members with the support and ongoing professional development they need to become the most effective teachers. A computer network enables recruits to communicate with each other nationwide, to share ideas and resources, and to collaborate on national projects.

Teachers' unions, universities, and educational organizations on both the national and local levels collaborate with TFA on the design of the courses and local inservice programs aimed at meeting specific district or state needs. At the end of the two year commitment, TFA recruits will be, in most cases, fully certified to teach in the local district.

Corps members' creativity, energy, and enthusiasm have not only won them praise on the district level but also have earned them the support and respect of the faculty members they work with each day. Josephine Lee, principal of Jefferson Year Round School in Oakland, Calif., wrote the following to our regional director: "Thank you for placing six of your teachers from Teach For America in Jefferson..... The highest praise for the TFA teachers comes from their fellow faculty members. During a recent staff planning session, the TFA teachers were listed as one of the strengths of our school. I hope they all felt the sincerity of that comment during the spontaneous applause that followed from the entire staff...''

Through experience, reflection, and ongoing professional development, corps members can make a significant contribution to the lives of their students.
Patricia Ferrara-Fuchs
Site-Based Programs Director
Teach For America
Miami, Fla.

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