Principals know best how to manage their schools

City Diary

January 22, 2003|By Michelle Trageser

THE LIBRARIANS at Roland Park Elementary-Middle School recently threw a party, complete with a sheet cake.

It was a very different scene from a few weeks earlier, when the library was locked and dark. The librarians, Mary Jo Kirshman and Barbara Krupnick, had lost their jobs along with a few hundred other temporary employees as the Baltimore school system tries to dig itself out of a huge financial hole.

Ms. Kirshman and Ms. Krupnick are part-time, temporary employees, hired by the school's principal, Mariale Hardiman, with money from her Sundry Educational Services (SES) funds. The full-time librarian resigned several years ago and there was no money to replace her.

The two part-timers aren't certified librarians, only hard-working, well-educated parents who love both books and children. Between the two of them they would earn $18,000 during the remainder of this school year, with no benefits. In its wisdom, the school system replaced them with a certified librarian it brought back from sick leave. She would cost $35,000 for the remainder of the year, and her union contract would not require her to work the hours that Ms. Kirshman and Ms. Krupnick typically did.

Roland Park Elementary-Middle is a state Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Under Ms. Hardiman's leadership, its test scores have risen consistently and the number of children clamoring to attend continues to grow. A flourishing library is only one of many factors in this success story.

During the six years that my children have attended the school, art, music and dance teachers have been added to the staff. The larger kindergarten classes have paid aides. And we have a premier writing program called "The Write Place."

Not all of these departments are funded through SES. But Ms. Hardiman regards SES funding as integral to her ability to provide a quality education for her students. It allows her to stretch budget dollars and to enhance services she and the school community think would be beneficial. This is known as site-based management, and it has served us well.

At the urging of the union, however, the city school system has determined that a centralized management system would be more effective. The system has decided it is better able than principals to make decisions for schools. That's why our two librarians were replaced with one who, on paper, was more qualified, and twice as costly.

In the end, Ms. Kirshman and Ms. Krupnick got their jobs back after the new certified librarian was transferred to another school. She had lasted a week. Students use the library all day, which means a librarian has little time for union requirements such as planning, lunch or breaks.

Ms. Kirshman and Ms. Krupnick are still temporary employees, they're still not certified and our happiness could be short-lived if SES is eliminated.

I have no doubt that there are Ms. Kirshmans and Ms. Krupnicks in every school in the city. People who take initiative, love what they do and always put the kids first are the people we all want our children exposed to. Some have lost their jobs and most won't get them back. It's a shame, and it's not fair.

Research supports the simple premise that schools are most effective when they have site-based management. Roland Park's parents and principal have been fighting hard to retain that capability. I would like to think that any school or community could fight for what it feels is right, and win.

But who fights for the children in the schools where the parents aren't as vocal, as committed, as well-connected as are some of ours? How do things get accomplished when a principal less experienced than ours tries to fight the system? When do they feel as good as we do because they got what they deserved?

And we do feel good. When Ms. Hardiman announced that our librarians would be returning, the school building erupted into thunderous applause. It was a great moment.

Today's writer

Michelle Trageser is an architect and free-lance writer who lives in North Baltimore.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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