December 4, 2012

Maine Voices: Schools should have great principals and even greater principles

Comment about East End school can be seen as disparaging the efforts of those who hel

By Randy Bigelman

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

This is one of my favorite quotes, attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, who was expressing his gratitude to the intellectual and scientific inquiry that had come before him to allow his monumental achievements in physics.

Contrast this to the quote attributed to the principal at East End school, who contended the group of teachers and administrators given the enormous task of starting a new school, implementing a new learning model and welcoming a group of anxious students to a new environment, ended up treating kids as "numbers walking through the halls."

Speaking of numbers, the article makes it clear that test score numbers were dismal before the school turned it around. I could attempt to make some cogent arguments as to how those numbers came about.

But that would run counter to my main point of why it seems necessary to continuously disparage the work done by those that have come before in order to make your work seem that much more significant.

Besides the fact that the current principal did not "walk those halls" to witness this purported assembly-line treatment of students, there is a much more disturbing trend at work here.

As educators, we are expected to be role models for our students and to look extremely hard to find the potential and good in every child.

Demeaning the work of fellow educators in our district is not only a poor model for our students as future citizens but fractures the already thin bond that exists between educators across our city.

In a time where the profession of teaching is taking a beating from every corner of society, we should be doing everything we possibly can to be supporting each other and propping each other up from these attacks and not adding to the carnage.

I would be remiss if I didn't address the mentioning of the past principal Carol Dayn. As she was one of my mentors, I find it utterly laughable that anyone could question Dayn's abilities to "build relationships" as a leader. In fact, she has taught me that "building relationships" involves all stakeholders.

You build relationships with custodians, secretaries, lunch aides, playground volunteers and anyone else who shares in the monumental work that we all are trying to accomplish together.

By participating in whole-staff training in Responsive Classroom and conducting entire school meetings where we celebrated our unique skills and talents, we worked purposefully to build relationships with students.

By establishing Family Feasts, which brought together more than 200 of our families and inviting our language interpreters to present workshops in multiple languages to better inform our diverse parent community, we worked thoughtfully to build relationships with families.

By engaging in authentic and meaningful learning expeditions that partnered with a myriad of nonprofits and businesses we worked skillfully to build relationships with the larger community.

Therefore, it both surprises and saddens me to read quotes from educators who were not only involved in these "relationship-building" endeavors but were integral to their development and success.

As an educator in this district for a dozen years and a proud parent of two Portland public-school students, I am constantly amazed at the skill, dedication, innovation and empathy displayed by my colleagues and the adults I am so fortunate to have taking care of the intellectual, physical and emotional health of my children each day.

This is work that needs to be celebrated and supported if we aspire to build educated, dedicated, and transformative future generations.

I understand there are problems in our schools, as there are problems in almost every large institution in modern society, but I am also a firm believer that we have the responsibility to not dismiss these problems as the products of whatever came before us.

I am thrilled for East End Community School as I spent four years working tirelessly with a group of caring educators building the school's culture and academic program during its infancy and cannot think of a group of students and teachers more deserving of a quality school.

But no matter what conclusions you derive about the previous administration, I find it both unprofessional and irresponsible to label them as adults who did not build relationships.

I witnessed how much care and dedication to the well-being of students, parents and colleagues flowed from the staff at EECS, and it is for them that I felt I had to address this unfair characterization.

Randy Bigelman of Portland is an educator in the city’s public school system.


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