Tulsa Public Schools open in about two weeks, but their principals have been at work all summer. This week, they're attending a workshop on community involvement in schools lead by Harvard researcher Tony Wagner. The News on Six talked with Wagner about challenges public education faces today.
Before coming to the workshop, Tulsa Public School principals were asked to name the major challenges they face in leading their schools today. The top two responses were how to motivate teachers and communities to be more involved in improving schools. Dr. Wagner will address those topics and more during the two-day workshop. Wagner says principals should begin by recognizing their role as leaders. "They see their job primarily as being managers. They have fists full of keys they're responsible for and they feel as though most every decision large or small has to flow entirely through them," he said.
Wagner tells principals to delegate more so they can address the important challenges for school improvement. There's too much talk about failure, he says, creating what he calls a "culture of victimization in public education. . . Who's to blame? Well, the teachers believe they're the ones being blamed and of course what they tend to do then is feel victimized, and what victims do is blame others," Wagner advises. "You put me in front of a classroom of 140 kids today and I will not succeed with about half of them at the very least. And it won't be my fault. So that's the first message. The system is not structured for all students or even all teachers to be very successful."
Tulsa principals spoke with the News on Six about other challenges they face, including the diversity of today's students. "Those children that come from such varied experiences. And so we work with whomever. We are public schools. We work with whoever's coming through the door," said Cindy Hemm, Park Elementary principal. Deborah Traylor, Academy Central principal, says her challenges include making sure parents come out to our schools and are there "to provide the necessary support to our children."
Wagner stresses that school improvement won't take place in isolation. It will take the efforts of the entire community to reinvent public education. Wagner says he's encouraged to see educators with courage across the country creating new school models that work better for all children.