Some Decision-Making Will Shift to Local Schools

Article excerpt

Byline: Marvin Edwards

Nearly a year ago, several hundred community leaders and District 46 staff members listened to a presentation by W. Patrick Dolan, a nationally-renowned authority on organizational behavior, who was in town to encourage "positive change" in our local school system.

While inspiring, Dr. Dolan's ideas weren't new to district and union leaders who had been pushing for more collaborative efforts in District 46 since the 1991-92 school year. Subsequent labor confrontations and fiscal challenges only strengthened the resolve of all concerned to find a new way of doing business.

Although the district and employee organization leadership has changed in the six years since the seeds of change were planted, the visions of those early dreamers came a step closer to reality recently. Plans were unveiled for the beginning of site-based decision-making in District 46 next school year.

Site-based decision-making is a joint planning and problem-solving process that seeks to improve the quality of working life and education where it counts the most - on the local school campus. It operates on the theory that everyone interested in a school's instructional process - staff, students, parents and the community - can provide the best learning environment by working together in a collaborative, autonomous manner.

While the concept may sound simple, working out the details isn't easy. In fact, it has taken the 50-member Partnership Council - a representative group of leaders from the unions, school board, administration, student body, parent and community organizations - 10 months to hammer out the procedures.

But the time and energy invested by this group that represents what Dolan calls the "anchors" - those with the most to lose in a restructuring process - is indicative of its commitment to change. And the Partnership Council plans to stay intact to oversee and guide the process.

At seven community meetings conducted to explain details of the move to site-based decision-making, council members were quick to point out that their overall goal was to improve student learning and performance through restructuring.

They also noted schools involved in the new approach would have to operate within certain limits or parameters: federal laws and regulations, state laws and regulations, school board policy and regulations, and collective bargaining agreements.

In other words, there are decisions, such as establishing educational objectives and determining school boundaries, that are best made at the district level. …