What IS Systemic Change?

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"A Former Board member's view from the OTHER side of the table."
Molalla River "BoardWatch" Website

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Since the Board of Education will no longer be providing video-taping for cablecast (effective July, 2002), suspended delivery of the "Molalla River Reporter" and stopped communication with the "Educational Ambassadors" (September, 2002) I have tried to provide information regarding education concerns for interested persons:

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Memo

To:             Participants and interested others
From:         Richard Meinhard, Ph.D. (234-4600, edcenter@teleport.com)
Date:          October 9, 2002
Re:             Conversations with John Gardner

(Here are some of my notes from John Gardner's September visit to Oregon. John is the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, school board member who has been leading the reforms made by the board in response to parental choice in Milwaukee. John, a Democrat with a long record of successful labor organizing, became active in education reform while working on behalf of his own Milwaukee neighborhood school. For years, parents had been fighting for Montessori programs, and in 1968 parents launched the Highland Community School.  Finally the school secured a charter, the only charter issued in Milwaukee. In 1995 John won a seat on the school board, and by 1999 the pro-change coalition had captured control of the Milwaukee school board. During his three days, he spoke (and debated) with district administrators, school board members, legislators, and groups of community leaders. His message challenged us to think much more deeply about the institution of public schooling as it is now defined and organizedóto think out-of-the-box.

John sketched a picture of the board's reforms that created site-managed, autonomous and accountable schools, and the parental choice that created the pressure and need for the board reforms, what he referred to as "leverage." John pointed out that school improvements have to be generated by the schools so the board's goal was to make schools self-governing and self-improving. The reforms offered the schools autonomy and control over decision making and resources so they could respond and beat the "voucherites." The schools are succeeding in drawing families back into the district, improving test scores, and increasing graduation rates. In school reform, John sees two essential factors: site-based decision making and the leverage of parental choice. Putting the school reforms in place, such as school power to hire and fire, faced stiff opposition in the past. "I contend," he said, "that (these changes) would not have occurred without the introduction of true school choice.")

The reforms we made broadened the definition of public schools; our definition includes all schools attempting to educate Milwaukee's childrenódistrict owned or not, in-district or not. This open system of choice by parents made it important for the board to enhance the capacities of schools so they could respond to families. Our job is to build capacity in schools by giving them control over their own programs. Our intention was not to try to reform our schools or to manage them but to push them to become self-reforming, to manage themselves so they would become autonomous, self-improving.

(The first public discussions with John were hosted by the Molalla School Board, a board that is proactively looking at systemic change in its district. It was a powerful discussion that created a powerful vision focused on nine systemic reforms the Milwaukee board has put in place.)

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