Scenes From The Monkey House: Warts and All

No school district is perfect.  Every one has "warts:"  issues that make the district function worse than it should.  Pod readers will know from past posts that the district in which I work is not immune to warts.  But this post is not about my district.  In the past few months, I have been party to horror stories from another long island district, one that has a reputation that is among the highest in the nation. The Jericho Union Free School District is an extremely upper middle-class school district in Nassau County.  It has the distinction of being the highest paying district on long island, with teachers maxing out at just south of $150,000 a year after nineteen years of service.  This could very well make it the highest-paying district in the country.  Outside of this fact, I would not know much about the district if I didn't have a friend working in the district on a temporary basis.  This friend, it should be mentioned, did not ask me to write this article.  In point of fact, this friend doesn't even know that I maintain this site.  For this reason, I am loathe to mention any other details about this friend, other than to say tat I trust the statements of this friend as plainly factual.  If anything stated below is factually inaccurate, please let it be known in the comments section.

There is a loosely direct correlation in public education between teacher salary and the amount of parental involvement that a teacher can expect in a district.  The more of one, the more of the other.  If you want to get majorly paid, your employers (the parents of the district) are going to make you work for it.  With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Jericho parents are firmly in a teacher's business.  To be clear, parental involvement is not a bad thing in education.  I don't know of any educator who doesn't want a parent to participate in their student's education; to stay on top of students, keeping young minds firmly in the game.  But this can easily go overboard, moving from participation to control.  And say what you want about the problems of public education (which are myriad, and firmly outside the scope of this article), the system cannot function if parents control their students education.  Parents who question any grade less than perfect, parents who go to the administration before going to the teacher, parents who support students who are clearly wrong, all of these can be harmful to a classroom.  And Jericho has all of these in spades.  There is a bank of phones in the basement of the high school for the express purpose of having teachers in constant communication with parents.  Again, you get what you pay for.

But even with all of this, a district like Jericho could be saved by effective administration.  Regrettably, that is sadly not the case.  The high school principal is thirty years old.  Read that sentence again.  The principal of the high school is so young, that even if he had been teaching since immediately graduating from college, he would have been in the classroom for eight years...assuming this was his first year as principal.  But it's not.  He's tenured.

You would hope (at least if you were me), that a district with such a radical alternative to typical administrative structures would have a principal who was widely respected by the staff.  Regrettably, such is not the case.  The high school teachers picketed the Board of Education meeting where the gentleman in question was granted tenure.  Parents of the district were apparently not moved by this demonstration to particularly care.  You get what you pay for.

It is ironic that a district that takes themselves so seriously and holds themselves up as an exemplar of excellence can have a situation at the flagship school that is among the most bizarre and ridiculous of any that I have ever heard of in public education.  In thinking about the root of the cause, I am somewhat at a loss.  Is it as simple as local control gone wacky?  The Jericho community has made it clear that their priority in education is parental control.  Education itself takes a backseat to the ability of parents to control the process.  And what is sacrificed?  Competent administration in favor of parental placation.  Actual instruction in favor of going through the motions.  A mirage of "learning" instead of real education.

You get what you pay for.