Sunday, June 05, 2005

Who are the Experts?

I sat down in a folding chair close to the door, like I always do, in case I needed to make a quick escape.
The topic of discussion in the break-out session at yesterday's Action Cleveland forum, sponsored by Cleveland industrialist Dan Moore, was education. The purpose of the event was to glean topics of concern, from Clevelanders, for candidates in Cleveland's next mayoral election to address during their campaigns. Panelists answered written questions submitted by participants.
I looked at the pamphlet listing the panelists and their backgrounds. Professors from Cleveland State and Kent State, a retired Cleveland School Board Member, and a retired elementary school principal now working as a CMSD administrator.
The questions from the audience were predictable. "How can we fix the problems in the Cleveland public schools?" The answers were also predictable. "We don't know."

I was beginning to seethe. Why would anyone set up a panel of "experts' who couldn't answer the questions? Most of them didn't even understand the problems. Only one had ever worked in a Cleveland school. No wonder things are such a mess. If the people who have the ability (influence, money, connections) to effect change don't consider the folks working on the front lines as the experts, they will never discover the real roots of the problems.

I walked out.

Frank Mills, who coordinated the event was standing in the lobby. I began to vent my frustrations.
Frank walked into the discussion room and asked the moderator to take questions from the floor. As I stood up to speak, I could see my friend Ed Morrison, sitting in the back of the room, shaking his head. He has seen that look on my face before.

I didn't speak to the panel, I spoke to the audience.
I began to tell them about the problems we face daily as teachers, and the steps we need to start taking to address them. I concluded saying,
"If you want to fix the problems in the schools, ask the teachers. Ask us what we need to do our jobs better. We will tell you."
Mr. Moore was sitting in the audience. He turned to me and asked,
"What do you need?"
"Besides money for basic supplies, we need good leadership. Teachers need administrative support. The principals of a building set the tone... Oh yeah, and more security."

When the discussion group concluded Mr Moore approached me. "Building administrative leadership will be a topic we will ask the mayoral candates to address this year in their campaigns. The schools need top-notch principals. It makes sense. We follow that model in business. When a division or a department fails you fire the manager."

Thanks for asking.

No comments: