Renewing America's Progress: A Positive Solution to School Reform

By Fredric H. Genck | Go to book overview

3
History, From Authority to Chaos to Management

Every school district in America is being affected by antiauthoritarian trends among teachers, students, and parents. These new circumstances are turning upside down the traditional power structure of America's school districts, which typically depended on the authority of a single individual in each district, the superintendent, and in each school, the principal, to whom everyone else was subordinate.

Even the school board often took orders from the superintendent. One principal told me that he was hired by an out-of-town district; when the superintendent told him to report for duty, he asked if it wouldn't be prudent to wait until the board approved his appointment. The superintendent answered, "Any board member who doesn't approve an appointment I make won't be on the board very long." This is only slightly exaggerated as an example of the authority superintendents typically enjoyed over their boards. Another story illustrating traditional superintendent authority is the "two lunch" system of dismissing staff members described to me by a teacher. The superintendent in that district was known to have lunch with a teacher if his or her performance was felt to be unsatisfactory. The restaurant setting made it more difficult for outbursts to occur. The first lunch was a warning, the second meant dismissal; everyone knew what was coming.

One board president told me that the superintendent -- an Eisenhower-type leader of impeccable moral standing and integrity, but accustomed to having his authority accepted and endorsed by the board-- simply disappeared once when the board disagreed with him. Searching the corridors of the school, they finally found him in the men's

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