A revolution in school management

November 10, 1992

As a concept, school-based management has been around for more than a decade. Practiced in various school systems around the country, including Prince George's and Montgomery counties, its record has been relatively good so far as experiments in public education go.

So it may come as a surprise to Howard County residents, who pride themselves on innovation in their classrooms, that school-based management has never been tried in the county.

Better late than never, at least. County school officials have announced plans to convert six schools to the concept on a pilot basis for five years.

Under the program, parents, teachers and administrators will have greater control over curriculum, personnel and finances at the individual schools in the program. The six schools will be picked early next year, in part based on support for the concept among individual school communities.

That's a good approach. School-based management is a radical departure from the way decisions have usually been made in the past. Rather than creating an autocracy with principals at the helm, school-based management requires that decision-making be shared with teachers and parents.

Such schoolhouse democracy is no small order. It requires a tremendous commitment by all parties, including a principal willing to relinquish power, a teaching staff able to accept greater responsibility and parents willing to provide extra effort. Foot-dragging, power grabs or dissension could weaken the program.

Above all, school-based management requires the backing and leadership of a strong superintendent.

Ample evidence of this lies in Baltimore City, where school-based management has suffered in recent years under three superintendents with very different levels of support for the concept.

Superintendent Michael Hickey appears to be fully behind the effort in Howard. However, Mr. Hickey plans to step down as superintendent when his contract expires in 1994.

If school-based management is going to be launched in Howard County, school board members must be prepared to replace Mr. Hickey with someone who shares his enthusiasm for the strategy.

Otherwise, the program will not have been given a fair chance and could well go the way of so many other education reforms -- nowhere.

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