What do you look for in a school system?

| May 18, 2011

I have never asked myself this question. But I will be asking it throughout the next year while I student teach and begin my job search. Here’s what I will look for: community involvement, student interest/motivation and teachers who can be creative and feel appreciated.

By this time next year I will be moving to  Baltimore, MD. I have never lived outside of New York City, and I am woefully unfamiliar with other school systems. So now I find myself asking: what should I look for in a school system?

Here’s what I do know about Baltimore: the murder rate is six times that of New York City. Yowza! That’s enticing. This stat was courtesy the New York Times. Why do so many articles love to quote stats like that? Also, one of my favorite responses lately to the news that I will be moving to Baltimore is, “Oh! Have you seen The Wire? Apparently that’s what Baltimore is really like!” Sigh. Yes, I saw The Wire, but I had to stop watching after forcing myself to suffer through season 4. If you saw the show, you know what I mean. It is not fun for an educator – no, I’m sorry, anyone with a heart – to watch season 4 and not cry their eyes out. Well, that’s what I did at least. So, high murder rate – check. Kids selling and doing drugs – check. But there has to be more to a city – and a school system – than random stats and situation dramas.

So I decided to do some research for myself. That’s when I found out about Andres Alonso, the newish Superintendent of the Baltimore public school system. At first, when I read that he worked with Joel Klein, I literally closed the tab of the CNN interview I was watching online. But just before doing so, I heard something about him having taught. I went back and watched it again – he taught for 12 years as a special educator in Newark, NJ. He actually has a doctorate in Education!  Then I went on to read the New York Times article that cited the murder rates. It was not that grim. In fact, the article lauded Alonso for his unique, yet intuitive, approach to fixing the school system. Yes, he closed some schools and had to lay off some teachers and principals, but he worked hard to involve the community. He even hired community organizers to knock on doors and persuade drop-outs to return to school. Proactive…

Then he held meetings where he invited parents, community leaders, non-profits, more community organizers, teachers and church leaders to talk about how to fix the schools. He even allowed students the opportunity to choose which school they attended. Talk about being empowered! Students began to enjoy school more, there grades improved, drop-out rates went down, teachers felt happier and so did parents. Does this sound too good to be true? Is it just spin?  HuffPo likes the school system! (Maybe not the most reputable source…)

So, let’s back up a little. First, I asked myself what I would look for in a school system. I want community involvement, student interest/motivation and teachers who can be creative and feel appreciated. If what I have read is true, then maybe Baltimore can fulfill at least a few of these interests for me. I guess I will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, respond and share in the comments – what do you look for in a school system?