Program Teaches Decentralized Decision Making for Schools

Article excerpt

With the passage of House Bill 1017 in 1991, and with the overwhelming national demand to improve schools, it's easy to wonder why they don't just follow the TV commercial and "do it."

Some school districts across the country and in Oklahoma have made considerable progress in getting their community leaders involved in change. Improved teaching methods, textbooks and other materials have been demonstrated, and there are new ways to deal with problems of discipline and even violence.

So why don't all schools just put those new ideas to work? Why don't they just call in parents and community leaders for help? Why don't board members, administrators, principals and teachers get together and make the changes?

Why don't we see results now?

The overriding answer to those questions is that school leaders, teachers, parents and the community don't know how to implement decentralized decisionking, said Fred H. Wood, dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Education. They simply are not prepared, and they need training.

"The key issue is leadership and how we prepare our school leaders," said Wood, who has studied the problems for 27 years. "We have a lot of good leaders who are not prepared for leading the kind of schools we are going to need for the 21st Century.

"Our schools, as they are now organized, have pretty well reached their limits. We can't get much better with organization from the top down, in which administrators make all the decisions and teachers are supposed to implement them. It's an old fashioned model that even business doesn't follow much any more."

Wood has started an education administration program at OU for developing principals who understand how to work with board members, administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders in making decisions. It includes internships with schools, and the graduates have found jobs as principals quickly.

That, however, doesn't help the administrators and principals who have been there for years and are not trained in decentralized decisionking. In a recent meeting involving educators, one district reported that "everyone recognizes the problems, but no one knows what to do about them."

The solution to that sad situation is a long term program that begins with the systematic training of everyone involved, said Wood. It must be accomplished district by district, rather than through any magic statewide plan, and it often takes up to five years to begin to see results.

"We have to prepare the schools to work with the community and the people within the system," said Wood. "A school district needs a planning team to train the administrators and teachers and take them through the process of working with the people in the community.

"They need to plan changes that are needed in that district or in certain schools or programs. If a reading system is working, while another school has a high number of low achieving or low ability students, why not focus on that project and put the money needed for textbooks into it, instead of automatically buying new textbooks for a reading system that is working?"

That can be achieved, he said, if a school district and its community join forces in setting goals and developing programs to meet the goals. I saw that happen nearly 20 years ago when I covered education in Minneapolis, where citizens work with the schools to plan each year. Wood pointed to a New York school district that started decentralized decisionking 10 years ago.

"The big changes in that district have come in the last four or five years," he said. "Now, even the secretarial staff, custodians and bus drivers are trained to understand how to work with students. They understand what the schools are trying to do in the curriculum and how to treat the students in meeting their responsibilities. …