The superintendent's real problems Two views on city schools

Gregory P. Kane

July 11, 1991|By Gregory P. Kane

IN AN editorial partially reprinted in Other Voices June 21, R.B. Jones, the feisty, erudite editor of the Baltimore Times sees conspiracy afoot in the ouster of city schools Superintendent Richard C. Hunter and the unsuccessful attempt to appoint David Hornbeck, a white, as Hunter's successor.

Hunter, according to Jones, was "publicly assassinated by a conspiracy that included groups that are attempting to control the city public schools from a distance." Jones further asserts that "corporate elites" are behind the conspiracy, with the installation of a white superintendent as one of their ultimate goals.

If what Jones says is true, he and the corporate elites are in for a rude awakening. School systems aren't run most efficiently from the top down. They're best when the control is from the bottom up. Parents, teachers, students and community members are -- or should be -- the real powers in the school system. A good principal is worth about five superintendents, a good teaching staff worth about 10 superintendents and a strong PTA worth about 20.

Superintendents are, after all, only managers and administrators. Anyone who's dealt with managers or administrators knows that they often hinder more than they help, are obstructive or destructive as opposed to constructive and can (depending on the size of the egos involved) cause more harm than good.

In fact, a good case can be made that Hunter's problems are not the result of some elaborate corporate elite conspiracy but the result of his inability to listen to John Q. Citizen and Susan A. Teacher.

What would I have done with the position of school superintendent recently filled by Walter Amprey? No one asked, but I would have left it vacant and saved the $125,000 a year. The overall impact of a superintendent on the school system will be minimal. And no one making that kind of money is going to listen to us schmoes making 20, 30 or 40 thousand. I would have encouraged more parent, teacher and community involvement in the school system. I would have concentrated on hiring the best teaching staff possible with the money available. I would have asked that churches and community centers open their doors for after-school and summer enrichment and tutorial programs.

Jones and other blacks who wanted a black superintendent now have their wish. I join them in wishing Amprey good luck, Godspeed and freedom from the "conspiracy of the corporate elites." If such a thing exists, however, overcoming it isn't Amprey's major challenge. Far more important is to rid the city of the spurious notion that the "right" superintendent can solve the problems of a large urban school system. One superintendent can have a major impact on Podunk, U.S.A., with a population of 200 and maybe 50 students. But the problems with Baltimore's system can only be solved through the collective effort of its citizens.

The most pressing problem facing Amprey and the rest of us is to rid black students of the notion that academic achievement is a "white thing." I know not from whence this idiotic idea sprouted. Perhaps it blew in from Idiotic Idea Land, searched for fertile ground and came to rest in the heads of far too many black students.

Unless these students have some basic common sense pounded into their heads, Walter Amprey's tenure will be no more successful than was Richard Hunter's.

Gregory P. Kane writes from Baltimore.

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