Education Project at Ruskin & Associates The Education Project

Ruskin & Associates
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Answers to the

"O.P.S.B. Vacancy Questionnaire"

Understandably, in these few pages, these answers can not completely describe my perspective and reasoning behind many issues related to public school education. I look forward to a chance to discuss these issues with you in a public forum, both before and after the appointment process.

--- John Ruskin

1. Please give us your vision of what a quality educational system should be and tell us why you are seeking a school board office.

This is the most important thing we do in Orleans Parish -- not recycling, not casinos, not attracting industry. When education succeeds, no affliction on the City of New Orleans will render its children immobile.

With education, we give them freedom.

If our municipal leaders fail in their own mission, and can not use these minds we grow, then our children will succeed elsewhere. If our city blossoms, they will stay with essential, priceless skills.

I am seeking the school board district office because I believe these things to the depth of my soul. I have seen what happens to the children and the community when the system fails; I have seen systems succeed and their children prosper. I believe my contemplation of the issues will enhance the Board's realization of these goals, and my public voice will gather public support.

2. What is your understanding of the difference between governing and administering the system and how do you define the role of the School Board vis--vis the role of the Chief Executive?

The distinction is that which should exist between management and staff. The function of supervision is empower staff to make decisions and to be responsible for their own effectiveness at their job.

The most important functioning agent in the school system is the classroom teacher; if that person is empowered and responsible, principals can only supervise and facilitate. If principals have that function, then the central administration can not micro-manage, and are left to system-wide management functions. And, finally, if the central administration is doing that job, then the Board, as fiduciary and trustee, is constrained in its relationship with the CEO, to establishing policy and empowering the CEO to effect that policy.

3. By what criteria would you hold yourself accountable for the service you intend to provide as a school board member? How would you recommend that you and other board members be evaluated with respect to accountability.

There is no realistic measure of success, in the short term, for an educational system. The more we rely on measures which focus on short term and intermediate goals, rather than the output of a 13 year process through our school system, the more likely it is that the system's governance will fail to produce valuable graduates of a 13 year process.

Therefore, one important function of a board member, both as leader and fiduciary, is to educate our electorate: to measure success over the long term, to sustain their support over the long term, and to fund that success over the long term.

To do that, the Board and the administration must evolve and plan for a credible method for educating those who are now 2 years old, so that when they enter kindergarten, and advance year-by-year through our system, there will be a credible system for 13 years of education.

4. Please list for us the address of your actual domicile and any other legal residences you may have. How do you see your role as a school board representative? Do you represent only the schools in your district? The people living in your district? Or all the children in the System?

1919 Short Street, New Orleans, Louisiana.

A school board member is a fiduciary serving the interest of the entire community in a public school system, freely accessible to all children, which provides education opportunities for all students regardless of skill or background.

To suggest that a district member only represents a single district implies -- falsely -- that the community within each school district has distinct and potentially diverse interests. While this might be true in larger, political subdivisions, it is not true for the school system.

To suggest that a district member only represents the schools in the district implies -- falsely -- that the community outside of a district is not affected by the success or failure of schools within the district, or that there is no mobility of families, no magnet schools, and that the consequence of a failing education system, poverty and crime, never cross a thin district line on a map.

5. Please give us your views on strategic planning and restructuring relating to the curriculum, school-based management, parental and community involvement?

I believe the strongest effort to maximize the efforts of large system and its staff is to encourage empowerment and responsibility at the lowest level possible. By doing this in a school system, you bring parents closer, simultaneously, to the decision making process and the point of instruction.

I would continuing to allow, and indeed would increase the authority of, principals to allocate current limited budget resources to match school needs.

6. How would you improve school board meetings?

I would suggest an increase in the frequency of meetings. Meetings should be adjourned at a reasonable and early hour, and continued day by day until complete, or adjourned and continued on additional overflow days. I would also suggest that commendations, other similar appearances, and presentations be undertaken at meetings separate and apart from other agenda items.

7. How would you define and encourage parental responsibility and involvement?

8. How would you encourage greater community participation in the governance of the system and the life of the schools?

Involvement is promoted by providing immediate access to those who are empowered and responsible for the education. In keeping with my philosophy of "empowerment and responsibility", the more decisions are made locally, by teachers and principals, the more parents, family and community can involve themselves in the education of their children.

Unfortunately, not all parents choose to become involved, either by affirmative choice or neglect. For those parents who affirmatively elect to cede control of the children's education, only the strong and active voices of Board Members, teachers, principals, and the surrounding community can promote and cajole a new found interest. For those parents whose interest wains for reasons outside of their control -- single parents, families in poverty -- or for children abused by circumstance, and in desperate need of parental control, the school system should continue to encourage active involvement of other involved government agencies in promoting an interest in childrens' education. This would generally include social service agencies, the juvenile courts and non-profit non-government agencies

9. Please provide your views on the Five Year Strategic Plan for Reform and in addition do you believe that the Plan is comprehensive enough to adequately address those issues that will increase student achievement?

I do not think that the "Five Year Strategic Plan for Reform" is the realistic, credible presentation that I discussed in question 3, above.

While certain of its elements are laudable, and many are desirable, it is otherwise filled with unrealistic expectations, and additional layers of centralized planning and scheming. The document provides no plan or solution path for its over 1 billion dollars cost; nor does it address the long term focus I believe most important -- planning, now, for the costs of 13 years' education for today's toddlers.

Further, for those suggested changes that the current academic bureaucracy could now develop, there is no insight into the impact on teachers already overwhelmed in the classroom by overloaded classes, and burdensome control and reporting schemes provided from above. This includes my belief that the system relies excessively on standardized testing as a measure of teacher skills and of student performance. We have trained our teachers to "teach the test" instead of the student.

In summary, therefore, I do not think that the plan appropriately addresses issues that will increase student performance.

10. How would you encourage the educational growth and development of the Board, the administration, principals, teachers and staff within the system?

The most important place for growth and development is where most of school system's money is spent: on instructional staff and their immediate management. While the system already provides seminars and sabbaticals, it doesn't provide a reasonable arena for instruction -- oversized classes with a decaying capital structure. The system provides curriculum instruction and development staff, yet in many cases can not provide sufficient funding for substitute teacher's for that development time.

There is not a soul in the city, whether applicant for this position or taxpayer, who would say anything other than: provide and continue to provide incentives to further growth and education, encourage and assist teachers to obtain further graduate degrees and specialization, give teachers and para-professionals paid leave to seminars on new instructional materials or classroom management. But all this costs money, and first must come a persistent and credible presentation to the electorate about why they should pay more for their public school system. Ask first grade teachers whether they want seminars and new instructional materials, or whether they want actual class sizes of 20 students, instead of 30 -- the answer would be resounding and probably unanimous. The board and its members should respond to this, and educate the electorate.

11. What is your position on multicultural education and how would it be implemented if you are in favor of it.

Our system must join in raising our children to be intolerant of intolerance; to understand "who we are". Children should learn about cultural distinctions, accept them, and meld parts into their own lives. Multicultural programs which do not focus on this perspective, do not warrant my support. Programs and curricula which, for blocks of students, emphasize their own backgrounds do not warrant my support; those that teach about other cultures do. I would support the administration in any program which meets these guidelines.

12. How should the System address the issue of equity in education, especially with respect to women, the handicapped and minorities?

Access to education is an absolute. The public interest in giving each student an equal opportunity to that education is paramount. While almost everyone agrees with those two statements, in a system with historically limited resources, those principles compete against each other.

In our school system's world of excessively limited resources, equity in education is resolved with funding, and a commitment from the elected board to build a credible plan for spending lots of money, and to tell voters to fund it. A school system can not fairly educate all its children, if it evades funding schools populated by the poor, and drives interested parents and their children, and the rich, away from public schools, or drives them to schools whose funding is enhanced by "voluntary" contributions of time and money. While it is wonderful that some schools attract parental involvement and funding, it is a shame that even basic needs are not met throughout the system.

13. Please provide your views on the system's financial conditions, financial management and your ideas for improving school financing with emphasis on capital improvements.

Once again, I believe that each Board member must argue strongly for significant increases in spending on capital improvements and annual expenditures to increase the number of teachers, to hold smaller classes in modern buildings. This requires a credible plan for major funding and expenditures. It requires elected Board Members to argue for an increase in taxes, backed by a credible plan for spending.

To make this palatable to the voters, I would suggest that the system begin with the lower grades, building and staffing new schools, and that as those schools come on-line, and their children progress through grade levels, the system build for the later grades.

14. Based on your qualifications, identify assets that you possess and describe how those assets will enhance the effectiveness of the Board in carrying out its responsibilities.

Aside from the skill sets that come from a broad education and work history, and the assets that are fairly discernible from my resume, I bring to the board the ability to encourage public discourse on difficult issues, particularly, taxation and spending by the Board.

I have with worked with large budgets, committed professionals, and staff in various industries. I have worked with teams to reduce complicated conflicts to elemental issues which can be chosen by rank of importance when compromise is not available. I have worked to resolve conflicting interests in organizations with diverse public or shareholder perspectives.

But, most importantly, I bring the Board a concept of fundamental fairness and a belief in a well-founded public school system,

15. Please provide your views as to the role of the Board in developing an effective legislative reform agenda for the school District. List three issues that you consider paramount.

I advance only one major issue for the Board to bring to the state legislature: funding. This includes taking such steps as to allow an expansion of the right of the Board to bring tax issues to the voters, particularly the local option to eliminate the homestead exemption. Additionally, there should be an assertive push for an increase in statewide funding of public school education. Other minor issues which should be raised would include local control over teacher certification issues.

The Board, and its members, as fiduciaries to the Orleans Parish Community, must also speak out to the Orleans Parish public, at large, and to a business community whose corporate leadership may or may not even be in Louisiana, to galvanize the support for adequate funding.

This subdomain to ComplianceOfficer.Com is published as a public service by John Ruskin, in the hope that enlarging the scope of discourse on Public School issues will lead to broader support. All Comments are welcome, regardless of perspective, in keeping with first amendment principles in a public forum.

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