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February 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 5


Repairing an Airplane in Flight

The November issue contains many excellent ideas about better schedules that allow more time for teachers to be with students. However, teachers also need pupil-free time. School improvement work is like trying to repair your airplane while you fly it. In my work with teachers, lack of time for teachers collaborate is the biggest roadblock to change.
—Lawrence Erickson, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois

In a Small School Growing Larger

As a kindergarten teacher, hardly a prophet in my own land, I was thrilled to read “Small Schools Great Expectations” (November 1995) and see that Thomas Sergiovanni quoted my article (“The Big Picture for Little People,” Education Week 1994).
I wish I could report that positive “small” changes had occurred in my workplace since I wrote that piece. Unfortunately, our kindergartens are larger than ever (at least 36 students in each one) and our elementary school population is 1,400.
Will 1996 show some improvement? No, and there are no more closets left to convert into classrooms. The art room is gone. The library storage area is gone. Portables fill former playground space and lunch begins at 10:20 a.m daily. As Sergiovanni says, “It's not impossible to have a good large school, just more difficult.” I'd add, Who wants one at the elementary level?
—Nancy Webster, Dade County Public Schools, Miami, Florida

Does Money Matter? The Litmus Test

As a principal of a small public school and the parent of two sons, I'd like to make a request of editors and talk show hosts. When interviewing pundits and researchers on the issue of money and schools, ask them where their children attend school, and what the tuition or per pupil expenditure is (Contemporary Issues, Does Money Matter?)
Until I see their children in schools with low per pupil expenditures, I cannot take seriously statements about money not mattering.
—Jo Sullivan, Principal, Federal Street School, Salem, Massachusetts

Shortfalls Present Opportunity

While no sane educator will argue that a lack of funding is preferable to an ample budget, funding shortfalls can cause school leaders to seek imaginative solutions to problems.
Last spring our district faced an unanticipated shortfall in state-level funding that might have necessitated the reduction of 10 out of 240 licensed positions. We averted laying off teachers by slightly increasing class sizes and eliminating positions through attrition. When the money was restored, however, we did not restore the lost positions. Instead, we used the dollars to create a comprehensive school-based alternative program for students. Seven teaching specialists and a number of assistant positions were created to provide interventions aimed at identifying at-risk students early and getting high school dropouts back into school.
We've learned that the best solutions may come when dollars seem to be in short supply. Our advice: Avoid the tendency to preserve the status quo—you won't have enough money and you won't be doing anything new and necessary for your students.
—Roger Sauer, Director of Administrative Services, Newberg School District, Newberg, Oregon

Does Class Size Matter? Ask a Teacher

Researchers, analysts, and economists can manipulate data all they want (“Moving Beyond Spending Fetishes”), but these numbers will never convince me—a classroom teacher—that class size doesn't matter. Education consists of far more than a yearly set of figures from standardized tests. It's also about relationships with students and their parents, the quality of daily interactions with children, and providing a place where all present can become a community of learners.
Smaller class size is what makes these intangibles reality for children. Although smaller size costs money, we can avert or lessen special education referrals, discipline problems, and attendance problems through a commitment to 20 students or fewer per classroom.
—Shari VanderVelde, Grand Junction, Colorado

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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