Open Letter to City Teachers

June 23, 1994|By WALTER G. AMPREY

Dear Colleagues,

Recent events have made it clear to me that we must communicate with each other more frequently and more openly. Let me begin by saying how much I believe in you and how much I identify with you. All my life I have been a teacher or a student and sometimes both. You, our teachers, have one of our society's most critical -- and criticized -- professions. We know we cannot exist or succeed as a school system without you, your skills and your talents.

Our school system is at a crossroads. For at least three decades, we have been failing our children. We in the public schools have lost our ability to transform the majority of our young people into successful human beings and knowledgeable citizens. We have been paralyzed by a dysfunctional organizational culture that strangles innovation and defies accountability.

While there is plenty of blame to go around, I do not believe that blaming any one group, particularly teachers, would be accurate or productive. Quite the contrary. I believe that you are among the victims in this collective failure of our system.

Our children suffer the most from our paralysis. As some of our young people become victims of our failure, they also become victimizers -- who threaten our lives, our future and the well being of our posterity. I believe that a society is judged by how it treats its children. As a society, we should be ashamed. I believe that we can do much better for our children. We must develop the collective courage and will to transform our patterns of failure into patterns of success.

For the last three years, we have been working together as a city to identify key areas of essential change in public education. These changes are based on the vision for the schools and the strategic plan that we developed together, a plan that includes both a ''philosophical'' and a ''kinetic'' vision.

In our philosophical vision, we agreed that all children can learn at high levels and that we must change the way we think about the learning process. We agreed that we must motivate children to reach their potential through positive experiences and that we must create a supportive learning environment that is free of disruption and distraction. We chose Efficacy as our belief system for attitudinal reform.

We also agreed that we must establish a pathway to excellence with very clear points along the way. Those points, which form our ''kinetic vision,'' are the strategies of continuous improvement, school-based decision making and training for leadership and change. Our philosophical and kinetic visions have led us directly to our initiatives and to promising educational reform. While arguments about privatization have dominated the news, we must not allow such issues to impede our comprehensive efforts to make the systemic changes we need.

Our pathway has brought us now to a planned reorganization that serves as the necessary next step for creating an effective learning organization. This is the most difficult, painful and frightening step we must take. We are truly at a crossroads. If we follow our plan, we can bring about the success we need as a school system and as a city. Together, we can confront the challenges of change -- or we can retreat to our more familiar dysfunctional behaviors. These are our only choices. For the sake of our children, we cannot turn back, and we cannot stand still. We must create an organization that works. We must move our resources -- both human and fiscal -- into the schools. Through it all, we must remember that ''The greatest hope lies closest to the greatest danger.''

The letter all school-system employees received a few weeks ago accurately described the changes we need to make in our organization. However, the letter did not explain that one of the major objective of this realignment of staff is to provide more support for you, the classroom teachers. The letter did not say that all employees were being notified so that we could have the flexibility to match the right people with the right duties. The letter should have been more humanistic; instead, it unintentionally alienated one of the most important resources we have -- our teachers.

I need your support as we reorganize our central office and our school system for 1994-95. To you, I offer my commitment to improve the education of young people in the system that educated me. In return, I ask for your trust as people who practice the most noble profession.

Thank you for working so hard for the children of Baltimore. Have a great summer.

Walter G. Amprey is Baltimore superintendent of public instruction.

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