A Newark school reinvents itself — again

In A Newark school prepares—again—to reinvent itself, the Hechinger Report looks at a new principal’s attempt to remake a Quitman Community School, which serves pre-k through eighth grade.  This passage was especially depressing.

One May afternoon on Quitman’s stuffy third floor, a dozen seventh-grade boys in royal blue polo shirts and khaki pants trickle into their English class over a 15-minute period, alternately slamming the door behind them and leaving again to use the bathroom. (Glover has divided the middle grades into single-gender classes, dubbed “kings” and “queens.”)

One boy comes in playfully hitting another; the teacher kicks them out. The students are working on the same assignments as the eighth-grade boys were the prior period: finishing opinion essays on school dress codes, “I Am” poems and color poems. (One boy’s musings on green: Collard greens on a plate / String beans that I never ate / Spinach that I’ll never take / Green soda going down your throat.)

. . . The boy who says he’s done gets up and leaves. “See y’all at gym,” he says on the way out.

A boy in the back row walks over to a bookshelf, picks up an autobiography by the puppeteer behind the Muppet Elmo, returns to his desk and starts reading. Another boy who isn’t doing anything begins to tease him.

One in the front of the room is singing. One in the middle who has been trying to work complains about all the door-slamming. He puts down his pen and goes to talk to a friend working on a computer at the back of the room. The screen shuffles between a grammar assignment (“Which sentence uses correct capitalization?”) and NBA standings.

At 2:05 p.m., the boys charge swiftly out the door, passing a desk where a stack of “I Am” essays from the last class is sitting.

On top is this one: I am tall and smart / … I worry sometimes I won’t make it / … I understand life is hard / I say man is wrong about everything / I dream (of) becoming BIG / I try to do good at all times / I hope life doesn’t end / I am tall and smart.

You see what I mean.

The school is now part of a children’s “zone” that will provide a variety of social services and supports to students and their families.

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Comments

  1. It takes more than good intentions to turn around a struggling school. This principal means well, but he’s making so many bad decisions. First off, turning around a school is a full time job. Why is this guy pursuing a doctorate and holding down a part time teaching job on the side? Every minute of academic time is precious, but this man is wasting time on activities that are of marginal educational value: having his students and staff spend an afternoon making a cardboard tree, a daily all school meeting in the auditorium (once a week would be more than enough). Also, the research is clear. Single sex classrooms don’t improve academic performance. Why is he wasting time on energy on an ineffective practice? I wish him the best, but I have a feeling that the school is not going to make any great strides forward.

  2. The linked article mentions that there have been a number of curridulum changes, so I can’t help but wonder what they are using and whether the teachers have sufficient knowledge to teach effectively. Many ES teachers are not comfortable with or proficient in math and/or with teaching real phonics and grammar. Related to that, is there a systematic approach to content knowledge across the disciplines (literature, history, civics, geography, science) that is essential to building a solid foundation?

  3. How in the name of anything sane could you read that piece and wonder about teacher competency? Jesus.

    The kids are profoundly out of control. The fact that the principal doesn’t see this, as well as the fact that his teachers have clearly quit trying to control them, doens’t bode well for his efforts.

    • It’s a school. When isn’t teacher competence an issue?

    • Are these teachers just really demoralized by the chaos of the situation?

      There are undoubtedly some bad teachers at the school, but maybe most of the teachers just need more TLC and support from administration. The principal is doing more or less the opposite, essentially telling his teachers that beatings will continue until morale improves.

      This is going to be unpopular, but maybe what some of these kids need is a nice stiff dose of Ritalin. Note how much of the poor behavior is fidgetiness and low attention span, rather than showing actual malice.

  4. “The school is now part of a children’s “zone” that will provide a variety of social services and supports to students and their families.”

    That doesn’t really sound very relevant to the stuff JJ quoted, does it?

    “This principal means well, but he’s making so many bad decisions. First off, turning around a school is a full time job. Why is this guy pursuing a doctorate and holding down a part time teaching job on the side?”

    Amen.

    “Every minute of academic time is precious, but this man is wasting time on activities that are of marginal educational value: having his students and staff spend an afternoon making a cardboard tree, a daily all school meeting in the auditorium (once a week would be more than enough).”

    Amen to that, too.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Compared to the piece quoted, Summerhill would look like bootcamp.
    At least Summerhill had a coherent goal and made an effort to get the kids on the same track.

  6. “but maybe what some of these kids need is a nice stiff dose of Ritalin”

    Boy, that’s about the most chilling sentence I’ve ever read on this blog. When I was a kid, I was referred to as “hyper-active” and an “over-achiever”. I’m grateful that drugs weren’t available in the 1960s. Instead, my teachers, the good ones, anyway, learned to channel my energy into useful pursuits. Instead of misbehaving when I had finished my work before others had, I was encouraged to go to the back of the class and play chess with another student who had the same problems I did. At other times, I was sent to the library and assigned a book to read. One teacher even challenged me to read a certain number of books by the end of the semester – a trick that kept me quiet for weeks.

    I suspect that these things were documented somewhere and passed along from teacher to teacher: here’s how you deal with this kid. Ritalin would have been such a waste.

    • Normally, I’m not a big fan of medicating the kiddies either, but these kids are bouncing off the walls and leaving class early. It may be either Ritalin or jail for them.

    • It all sounds good. Also useful for active boys – and teachers need to learn that boys and girls ARE different, with boys tending to be more active – is a quick lap or two around the playground or several stair runs or sets of situps (who can do the most?) in the hall – whatever’s handy. That worked for a many of the ES boys at my kids’ school. I think the “epidemic” of ADHD and ritalin is largely because normal boy behavior has been pathologized. My old maid ES teachers and my DH’s nuns understood the difference and dealt with it effectively – many without ever going to college. Of course, separating kids according to educational level would mean that more kids are being appropriately challenged or supported.

  7. Teachers who tell everyone to do homework instead of teaching and then have no expectations for their students are the reason our schools suck. Or teachers who make everyone do homework and then tell everyone to shut up while the class sits in silence for 40 minutes. Enough is enough, we need to start making sure only people who care end up as teachers.