We need a superintendent of schools who is committed to educating poor children. The goal must be: All poor children at grade level in reading and math by the end of elementary school. Accomplish this in one generation.
Possible? The research is settled on how to do this. Experts on the left, center and right agree on the core steps: Principal in control. Teachers who want to be there. More school hours per day. More school days per year. Parental involvement. Test relentlessly and act on results.
What's lacking is belief and will. Find both, perhaps, in the success of two other local programs that have addressed poverty. One is United Way, which has more than doubled the money raised on behalf of the poor in one generation. The other is public housing, which has transformed Peabody and Baker Village in half a generation and is about to take on Booker T. Washington.
Both are remarkable accomplishments, the product of belief and will, led by executives, staff and volunteers, focusing on what's known to work. They teach us what is possible. Let's agree to make the education of poor children the next great accomplishment.
As a first step, do this by hiring a superintendent of schools who is credible on the issue of educating poor children. Why is credibility important? Because "credibility is the foundation of leadership," according to experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.
Credibility comes from three building blocks:
Word can be trusted
Knowledge and skills to lead
Personally excited about the direction the organization is heading with energy and enthusiasm for the challenges ahead.
If the next superintendent's word can be trusted, the superintendent will build healthy, enduring relationships. If the next superintendent has the knowledge and skills to lead, the superintendent will be functionally strong in the role. And, if the next superintendent is personally excited about the direction the schools are taking, and has energy and enthusiasm for the challenges ahead, the superintendent will be seen as an optimist -- and optimism is infectious.
Let's agree and act: Poor children at grade level in one generation.
John F. Greenman, Ledger-Enquirer president and publisher from 1995-2004, is Carolyn McKenzie and Don E. Carter professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications.