Proceed Cautiously With Innovation Zones
It's not a new story, an all A student leaves grade school for middle school and somehow hits a wall. How do you fix the problem and make middle school more engaging for students and keep them interested in their education going forward? That seems to be the million dollar question facing the New Bedford School Department.
For many students middle school is like arriving on a whole new and sometimes unfriendly planet. Most students have spent their entire school career in the same building with the same kids that probably live right in their neighborhood. They have known the teachers, the principals and even the custodians and cafeteria workers since they were four or five years old. Change is tough, especially when you are 10 to 12 years old. And then there is puberty. YIKES!
Superintendent Pia Durkin says "bold and different ideas" are needed to revitalize the middle school experience. A proposal by the non-profit "Empower Schools" is suggesting a plan adopted in other communities that would make our middle schools "innovation zones." The proposal gives much of the operational control to those who run the schools, the principals and the teachers. That includes budget and curriculum decisions currently made by the School Department. Interesting idea. The plan also calls for the establishment of an appointed board that would supersede the School Committee. I have a problem with this concept.
The city charter calls for an elected school committee that is charged with the operation of all public schools. To strip the committee of it's authority and put it in the hands of an appointed panel is dangerous at best. It may even be in violation of the city charter. Questions have also been raised about the need for a third party to devise and implement innovative initiatives at the middle schools. Can our own educators, parents and community leaders do a better job at that than outside consultants?
I am open to any idea that might improve the overall education experience for as many of our students as possible but we must proceed cautiously so that we don't just make change for the sake of change that really benefits no one at all.
Barry J Richard