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The Nation | Ronald Brownstein WASHINGTON OUTLOOK

Ailing School Systems Prescribed an Injection of Leadership

June 24, 2002|Ronald Brownstein

It's important to remember that almost all the superintendents staggering away bloodied after 24 or 36 months in big-city school jobs once rode in with that exhilarating sense of possibility too. Kati Haycock, a leading advocate for low-income students, notes it's dangerous to invest too much hope in any individual to transform a big-city school district when the system imposes so many constraints--from union contracts to meddling school boards.

But through this program, Broad has recognized a fundamental fact: If improving the schools are a national priority, the nation needs to systematically funnel more of its most talented people toward the challenge.

Earlier this month, the program placed its first new superintendent: Paula Dawning, a recently retired AT&T vice president, beat out a veteran educator for the superintendent's job in Benton Harbor, Mich. The problems there are immense: one-third of the students don't finish high school. The Broad program hasn't armed Dawning with a sure-fire answer for reversing that trend. But it is infusing her, and her classmates, with an obvious determination to find solutions. In the months ahead, it's likely that some very troubled school systems will find a spark of hope in the heat of that passion.

Ronald Brownstein's column appears every Monday. See current and past Brownstein columns on The Times' Web site at: www.latimes.com/ brownstein.

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