Making Small Schools More Accountable -- To Being Small Schools

As sometimes happens, I came across a particularly insightful educator in the process of reporting an upcoming article for Catalyst on small schools, and asked him if he'd write a little bit here about how the small schools world really works.  He'd like to be called Gnats Grobnik (Slats' cousin).

As you'll see below, Gnats has a passionate but clear-eyed sense of
what is and isn't working in the small schools world right now -- a lot of it coming from
conflicts between what CPS wants and what CHSRI wants (but doesn't demand).

The situation he describes sounds pretty excruciating.  The solution he proposes -- a clearer, tougher role for CHSRI that might help protect and preserve small schools -- is an interesting one.  Whether it would work, or how to get there, I don't exactly know.

To: District299
Fr:  Gnats Grobnik

Re: Editors and Bosses

When I was a young reporter for the late Chicago City News Bureau, I used to complain about the tyrranical ways of my editors.  I only slowly learned that their toughness was key to helping me do a good job -- and protecting me from the boss.   

Now, as a veteran small schools teacher, I wish that my current editors -- the Gates Foundation and the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative (CHSRI) -- were equally tough-minded, and in so doing helped protect me and other small schoolers from the boss (CPS). 

Thus far, at least, it's not happening -- and that's ruining what Small Schools are supposed to be.

Under the current system, it's the district, not CHSRI or Gates, who shapes small schools -- often in a chaotic, destructive way.  On any given day, a person entirely unfamiliar with my school might
walk in from some branch of the Board of Education -- perhaps from the
Area Instructional Office, perhaps from some other, higher region--and
reassign a vital staff-member or redesign our curriculum or our space
in some particular way unrelated to actual conditions at our school and
unrequested by us.  If there were only one such person, this might be a
mere inconvenience.

At the same time, Gates and CHSRI are nowhere to be found.  They call on Small Schools to implement ongoing, in-house professional development focused on improving student engagement. This is an excellent thing.  They hand schools a half-million dollars to spend more-or-less as they wish. 

That's fine, too.  But there is no accountability of any, well, account, for these things.  And in this situation at least, that's bad.

Neither Gates nor CHSRI put any teeth into what they want for their $500K, leaving small school faculty with little ability or incentive to develop the courage to stand up to the areacrats and bureaucrats who constantly demand that the schools bend, split, and twist in ways that diminish and ultimately destroy their integrity.

Small School leaders should be more scared of failing to meet the
laudable, reform-oriented expectations of CHSRI than of offending CPS
areacrats and bureaucrats. Bureaucrats are paper tigers, and we only need a little help to stand up for what we know to be right.  That help could come from the Gates Foundation.  We need a stronger editor.

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