Interview with Gene Harris, Assistant Superintendent, Division of Curriculum and Instruction, Columbus Public Schools
Over the past five years, the Columbus school system has seen three different superintendents and many changes. The last two superintendents included some form of decentralization in their visions for the schools. A modified version of decentralization began when five high schools were given increased responsibilities, but not control of their budgets. Later, a total of eight elementary and middle schools were givenlimited increases in their local powers. However, no school sites are fully decentralized. Budgeting, personnel decisions, and curriculum development are all handled centrally, although curriculum is developed using curriculum committees that consist of teachers and administrators.
The creation of Instructional Support Teams at each school represents another move toward decentralization. The administration saw these teams as a good way to incorporate parents into the decision-making process of every school. The primary goal of the teams - which include parents, teachers, andadministrators - is to generate ideas to improve school performance. Team members have received some training, but, because this move toward decentralization has been modest, there has been only a limited need for it.
The Instructional Support Teams' ideas are submitted to a systemwide Reform Panel, co-chaired by the superintendent and the teachers' union president. The 20-member panel includes two co-chairs, six parents (three selected by the union, three by the administration), six administrators, and six teachers. The panel reviews proposals and decides which ideas to fund. So far, 90 to 95 percent of the ideas they have reviewed were authorized for funding.
Lack of training and more "Fear, lack of knowledge, and lack of training are big problems. Teachers lack time for training because their key priority is preparing students to pass a graduation competency test in June 1994."
Rapid change "Naturally, the turnover of superintendents has created an unstable environment that makes significant reform difficult to achieve."
Funding "States need to make it easier for urban systems to direct the categorical funding they receive for disadvantaged students. Ideally, we'd like to give each school a chunk of money and allow the school to determine how it should be used. Schools would be held accountable for student outcomes."
Training "Locally, there needs to be a huge education effort directed at the board of education and the administration to help stimulate a new mindset on their part. They need to be educated concerning the goals and intent of decentralization and made comfortable with the idea of schools making more decisions on their own account."
Posted on April 26, 1995