By Bernie Schein, Candidate for District 3 School Board Representative
I’m running for a seat on the Beaufort County school board, district 3. I’m running hard, I’m running fast, and I’m running for the children of Beaufort County. How hard? How fast? Call me, and I’ll call you back within 24 hours.
I’m a native of Beaufort, a lifelong educator with a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and 40 years of experience in public and private schools. I was a principal at three schools, including Yemassee Elementary and Junior High School and Port Royal Elementary School. I have published a book on my experiences entitled “If Holden Caulfield Were in My Classroom: Inspiring Love, Creativity and Intelligence in Middle School Kids.” I’ve worked with every kind of kid, parent, teacher and administrator imaginable. I speak about it, write about it, and consult. I’m a student of students, of kids, of teachers, of parents, of who they are and how they learn. I’m still learning and I’m still inspired. I’ve devoted my life to kids, who I think are great fun, and who move and touch me and deserve the very best we can give them. They have to learn and discover what they need and want to go after it. To help them, we’ve got to see the world not only through our eyes, but through theirs. The farther we remove ourselves from kids and classrooms, the less we know.
You can’t run a school system like General Motors any more than you can run a school or a classroom or raise kids at home that way. They’re too interesting, too exciting, too screwy and nutty, too complicated. Board policies and discussions and considerations should reflect the passion that many of us, as teachers and parents, have for kids, and not just our own.
The Board, at present, does not. Both my opponents, one of whom is the Chairman, appear to me too far removed from the kids to really know who they are and what they need and what policies will best enable educators and parents to help these kids. The Chairman wants to, but “wanting to” is not enough. Civility, which he has provided, is not enough. Respect among board members is not enough. Placating each oher is not enough. Yes, there is tact and decorum now, but what has that tact and decorum done for one child in Beaufort County?
Board members throwing things at each other, which my opponent, the Chairman, has mercifully stopped, was admittedly counterproductive. But Board members fighting for our kids? Sorry, but they don’t truly know our kids.
I’ve been to Board meetings, I regularly watch the meetings on local television. They’re deadening, ineffective, trivial, sloppy, and ill-conceived; in short, a distraction from the real issues. If elected, I’ll do my best to mimimize bricks and mortar, top-down leadership and bloated bureaucracy, and focus instead on what makes our kids truly smart–smart teachers , smart counselors and social workers, perceptive learning specialists, inspired curricula and instructional programs, and strong, healthy peer and parent-child relationships.
To attract and keep the best teachers, and “the best” is what we all want for our kids, we must pay them what they’re worth, free up their time to teach and work with kids and parents, further educate them, put them in charge, and support them. And we can, without raising taxes, if we re-order our priorities and re-distribute funds accordingly. Here’s how:
*De-emphasize, reduce, and ultimately rid the system of No Child Left Behind and its ineffective standardized testing, whether federally or state mandated, which could free up funds as well as an enormous amount of teacher-time, to nurture, grow and ripen our heirlooms instead of weighing them over and over on scales that don’t accurately measure them anyway. Standardized testing teaches kids not to ask questions of their own, encouraging a passive, receptive, fairly thoughtless education. Instead, let the child’s work speak for itself, serving as his evaluation; that, and teacher-made tests that more accurately reflect the child’s progress.
This is the time to go to the legislature and fight NCLB. Students are protesting. Many of those parents and educators who were for it are now against it. 400 school boards in Texas have adopted resolutions asking lawmakers to scale back testing. We need to join with as many school boards as we can and fight this mess. Even Obama says now that it hurts kids.
Teachers are in despair, overwhelmed with minutia, bureaucracy, and rigidity. And standardized tests can no more prove a teacher’s worth than a kid’s. We can weed out bad teachers. Parents, faculty, and administrators know who they are already. We always have. And providing school choice, which I’m also proposing, will further this process since without customers buying what teachers are selling, bad teachers will be out of a job.
The Feds granted states like SC waivers from federal standardized tests because they’re looking for a bailout from the mess they created by demanding 100% student proficiency by 2014, which is tantamount to asking for perfection.
Our state superintendent has obliged them with state-mandated tests, which are easier, though equally ludicrous. Nevertheless, he’s asked county superintendents for more “flexibility” in their programs and systems of evaluation. Let’s see if he means it.
* Institute a strong anti-bullying program that makes kids safe, secure and free to learn, socialize and speak their minds. The claims that approximately 30% of kids have been victims of bullying, about 30% have bullied, and about 30% are bystanders are not true. Everyone’s been a bully, because everyone’s been a victim. Not only that, but the social competition and clamor for “popularity”, which usually means more well-feared than well-liked, insures that most kids, at one point in their lives, have been sycophants, suck-ups. Everybody’s been picked on, and everybody, in one form or another has at least “picked on” someone else, if not overtly, then passive-aggressively, through put-downs, malicious gossip, etc.
I have available a program I used in my own classrooms, one also used by teachers and counselors in classrooms. The fear of intimacy, of true friendship—that need for invincibility—causes bullying. Most kids simply aren’t fully aware of the consequences of what they’re doing here. They’re defensive and lack that self-knowledge. The answer to bullying is true friendship, genuine respect, in kids learning to be true to themselves, to what they really need and want. I’ll propose that program, POPULARITY: Fighting Social and Physical Cruelty in our Homes, Schools and Neighborhoods. It works. Kids and teachers love it. Kids learn to speak for themselves instead of their friends and classmates. Guess what? It can also open them up to closer relationships with their parents and siblings and to greater reading and writing.
*Grant each school autonomy, independence and greater responsibility, with each school faculty designing their own curricula and instructional programs and presenting them –selling them, “pitching” them, essentially–to the public, after which families can choose the school which most appeals to them, regardless of where they live. The predictably small amount of families who don’t sign up for a particular school can be assigned demographically. Not only will opening up the system to choice make schools more responsive to the needs of kids and parents instead of some top-down vague bureaucracy, it’ll also let some of the air out of the bureaucracy, reducing bloat as well as the number of bureaucrats in the system, further freeing up funds. Teachers should be making more than bureaucrats anyway, but even more so as they take on more responsibility for devising and “selling” their own programs. We also need to e-align the bus transportation system to accommodate the new program of school choice.
*Institute a more sophisticated teacher-education and parent-education program that will help professionals and parents learn to view the world through the eyes of children, furthering their understanding of what makes them tick, what makes them progress, what holds them back. What was it like really, to be a child? Too often we forget, and either expect too much or too little. What made us tick, as kids? What didn’t?
*Institute a continuing teacher-education program that insures teachers teach what they know and know what they teach.
*Restore discipline and respect for authority by ridding the system of legalized extortion, the frivolous and malicious prosecution so undermining and terrorizing to educators. Give teachers the support they need to exercise their authority. Love conquers all, even the most difficult of kids, but sometimes it’s got to be tough-love. After all else has been tried—counseling, mentoring, great teaching, family and social interventions– to jump-start hard-core cases and get their attention, institute “last resort” policies such as “boot camp” programs.
All of this has been done. It works. We can do it. Let’s put our kids first, then keep them there. Please, vote for me to represent you on the School Board, Nov. 6. I’ll work like heck for you and your kids. If elected I will be there for the children and parents of Beaufort County. That’s a promise.