Action against school staff is misdirected

February 18, 2007|By SUSAN REIMER

ANNAPOLIS HIGH SCHOOL doesn't have a teacher problem. It has a parent problem.

In the past month, Anne Arundel County Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell has announced that the faculty and the staff at the school -- from the principal to the janitors -- must reapply for their jobs.

The reason? A handful of students has failed assessment tests in each of the past four years, and the school is in danger of a state takeover.

I think the state should take over the households those failing students come from and make the parents reapply for their jobs.

My two children graduated from Annapolis High and they had the same teachers and janitors as everyone else at that school, and they turned out just fine.

And they were the norm at that school. They are not a hothouse blend. As a matter of fact, just about everybody they knew at Annapolis High was smarter than they were.

Of the 1,700 students at the school, the teachers say they are confident they can pick out the 40 -- 40 -- who are failing.

What is the difference between my kids and the kids who are putting their heads down on their desks during the assessment tests and telling the teachers that they are taking this opportunity to get them fired?

It isn't the principal. It isn't the janitor. It isn't the head of the Advanced Placement program or the head of the International Baccalaureate program. It isn't the sports coaches. And it sure isn't the superintendent.

The difference is the parents. The difference is me.

I'm not bragging here. My kids thought I was a nut case on an educational bender. They don't think they benefited from my parenting, they think they survived it.

I hired a coach for my kids when they were on the swim team, for heaven's sake, so you know I was going to insist on tutoring when Jessie was having trouble with pre-calculus and Joe needed a few more points on his SATs.

But money wasn't required for the most important things that my husband and I did.

We walked or drove them to school every morning, so there was never an issue of truancy or tardiness.

My husband took their lunches to school when they forgot them, and I took textbooks, reports or sports equipment when they left them behind, too.

I refused to bail my kids out of trouble when they were scolded by teachers, but I showed up at every conference and every meeting and volunteered like crazy for school functions.

After a while, we couldn't help with the homework, but my husband never went to bed before a studying child turned off his desk lamp.

Bottom line? You can't fix a school from the top down. You have to fix it from the bottom up.

You have to fix the families.

First, by paying the parents a living wage, providing decent child care and a public transportation system that can make their lives work smoothly.

You have to work with the institutions -- like the churchs -- in low-income or immigrant communities to convince the parents that education is essential for their children's well-being. And you have to teach the parents how to help. This isn't instinct, you know.

You have to provide mandatory pre-school so that all children have the language and social skills to enter kindergarten. First-grade teachers are now dealing with kids who are already two years behind.

You have to re-enforce the building blocks of education -- math and reading -- in the earliest grades, and you have to resist the temptation to promote the kids have not mastered them.

You have to feed everybody breakfast as well as lunch. Feed them after school, too. You can't learn if you are hungry, and kids are always hungry.

You have to provide mandatory after-school and summer programs for all the students who are struggling and peer tutoring sessions during the school day.

You have to provide alternative environments for the hard-core few who are too angry to learn or whose lives are too chaotic to permit them to learn. And you have to have the guts to move the troublemakers there.

If you want to get rid of some of the teachers -- the burnout cases or the rookies who can't cope -- find a way to work with the union to move them someplace else.

But you don't light a match to the building the way Maxwell has.

It will be years before Annapolis High recovers from the chaos he has wrought and, because the successful education of a student involves so many, many factors, we will never know if this monstrous over-reaction has worked.

It is not the teachers' fault, any more than it is the janitors' fault, that a handful of kids at Annapolis High are failing. And it isn't the fault of the other students, or the parents who continue, against the odds, to put their faith in public schools.

Maxwell is trying to change the one element that was the constant in the complicated equation that is a child's education.

The teachers.

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