Archive for the ‘Reflections of an Author’ Category

The Blame Game Continues On

01 Feb

“You’re telling me that the Dean was told by someone downtown that I’m going to be removed as principal?”

“Not exactly in those words.  But… yes, it was very strongly inferred that you are going to be removed.”

My face flushed.   Anger gripped me.  He continued to talk but I didn’t hear him.  I sat quietly in my chair as I contemplated this latest turn of events. So it was my name that was up on the board.  I am the one who has been chosen to be the sacrificial lamb. This was not a professional move that I desired.

Reflections of an Author

Submitted by Frank Murphy, Feb 1, 2011

The school district of Philadelphia has announced that it will restructure 18 schools in the next year as part of its school turn around strategy. These schools will join the 13 schools that were transformed into Renaissance Schools during the current school year.

As a result of this decision hundreds of Philadelphia schoolteachers will find their personal and professional life thrown into havoc for at least the next seven months.  Most of these individuals will not return to their current assignments at the start of the next school year.  For those teachers who have established deep roots in these school communities, it will be a difficult fate to face.

Any concerns that they might voice over being displaced from their schools will most likely be ignored.  If they speak up, they will be labeled as  “Complainers”.  The architects of the Renaissance School model will tell them that it is all about the children and that their adult issues don’t matter.   If they persist in disagreeing with the decision to dismantle their school, they will face the same aggressive treatment that was bestowed on the West Philadelphia High School community last year.

This is a horrible way to treat the staff of our school district.   Service, public service is the driving force behind every decent teacher’s commitment to his or her students and to the community in which they teach.  To tell these professionals that their service has been inadequate is an insult and an affront to their dignity.  Worst yet, it is an attack on their character.

The suggestion that teachers are responsible for the failures of their schools is simply an attempt to make them the scapegoats for a system that has failed both them and their students.


Reality Isn’t An Excuse

30 Dec

Reflections of an Author

Submitted by Frank Murphy, Dec. 30, 2010

In recent installments of Confessions of an Urban Principal, Rashid a troubled nine-year-old fourth grade student wrecked his classroom on one day and then on another threatened to kill his teacher.  When this boy was in third grade he had witnessed the murder of his father.  Rashid’s dad was shot multiple times during a drug related gun battle in the street outside of the boy’s former school. Rashid and his father were victims of the plague of violence that has either killed or  injured many African American males in our nation.

After this incident occurred, Rashid desperately needed help in dealing with the trauma that he had suffered.  Unfortunately, his mother didn’t take advantage of the counseling services that her Department of Human Services caseworker had arranged for her son.  He did however receive counsel from his sixteen-year-old brother who was incarcerated in a youth detention facility near Pittsburgh.  Advice regarding how to survive in the street was sent to the younger boy in letters penned by his delinquent older sibling.

I don’t think the authors of the No Child Left Behind legislation imagined that a child would be tutored in this manner when they devised their scheme.  But then the architects of this reform plan either failed to comprehend or willfully ignored the challenges faced by the Rashids of our society.   There are children just like him who inhabit the many schools that are targeted for the experimental turnaround strategies currently favored by the federal Department of Education.  These children regularly challenge the abilities of the best of our teachers.

In 2005, it was doubtful that Rashid’s attention was on his schoolwork given what was going on in his life. Before he could make adequate academic progress, his emotional issues needed to be addressed. Until this happened it was hardly likely that he would score at the proficient level on the state test.  Given his state of mind he did not score well on the state test that year.  Worst still, the yearly growth of Rashid’s classmates was also stunted by the chaos he created.  The test scorekeepers frowned on these results.

The only outcome that these reformers are willing to envision is that 100% of America’s students will score at the proficient or advanced level on their state test by 2014.  Reality doesn’t factor into their calculations.

We need to get real, if we are really serious about leaving no child behind.  We can do so by enacting school reforms that address the needs of all students instead of pretending that perfect test scores will solve the problems of our society.


Good Will And Peace To All

28 Dec

Reflections of an Author

Submitted by Frank Murphy, Dec. 28, 2010

The total number of homicides for Philadelphia in 2010 reached 300 on December 23rd.  In 2005, the year in which Confessions of an Urban Principal takes place, 380 murders occurred in the city of Philadelphia.  For the last several years, national crime totals have decreased.  In our own city the decline in homicides between 2005 and 2010 is local evidence of this trend.

Criminologists can not fully explained this decrease in the yearly crime rates.   Possibly the high incarceration rate of our nation has something to do with it.  Or perhaps the current smaller percentage of teenage boys who make up the population of our nation has contributed to the lower crime statistics.  Teenage boys are most prone to commit a crime.

Whatever the cause, these crime statistics are for most people good news.  However the news for African American men and boys isn’t as great.  Last year 40% of all murder victims were black men.  Since the year 2000, there has been a 39% increase in the number of black boys between the ages of 14 and 17 who have been homicide victims.  In 2005, 45% of the murder victims in Philadelphia were black males under the age of 25.  These totals are astonishing when you consider that black males make up only 6% of our nation’s population.

This is a serious problem that receives scant attention.  Occasionally a compelling and compassionately written article will appear in the local newspaper on this subject. Most of the time the story will focus on a mothers sorrow over losing a son to gun violence.  But other than these occasional human-interest articles, there is little if any, serious reporting on this problem.

This is not to say that our elected officials or the news media fail to share their perspective on the plight of African American males.  They can frequently be heard voicing their concern over what they term as the failure of our public school system to address the needs of poor children of color.  They engage in much public discussion concerning what they term as the negative effects of teacher unions, teacher tenure, and teacher effectiveness on the lives African American children.  With increasing frequency they offer proposals on how to deal with these so-called problems.  Creating more charter schools, privatizing educational services, and offering vouchers lead the list of their possible solutions.

What we don’t hear in this public discussions is a plan that will decrease and eventually eliminate the slaughter of so many of our boys and young men who inhabit the under-resourced and ill served communities of our nation.

If we are truly interested in addressing this sad reality, then we need to stop side- stepping the inequalities and injustices that daily confront these young people. Our leaders need to do more than merely blame our public schools for our societal failures.   Effective leaders would devise and pursue strategies that will assist every person in this nation to succeed.   They could start by seeking answers to these questions.

  • How can we provide reasonable opportunities for legal and gainful employment for every citizen of our nation?
  • How do we ensure access to quality health care, housing, and educational services for every member of our society?

Finding answers to these questions will move us all closer to a more peaceful world.

It is much easier to show good will to others when you have access to the resources you need in order to live a happy and satisfying life.

When people aren’t subjected to a daily life that is dominated by fear, desperation, anger and alienation, then they will be less likely to resort to violence and criminal activities in order to achieve their goals.


The Grinch Who Stole Learning

23 Dec

Reflections of an Author
Submitted by Frank Murphy, Dec. 23, 2010

Go to any school today and you will feel the excitement pulsing from the classrooms throughout the building. The children are ready to make a magical trip from school land to toyland to joyland. Their energy level is high. It feels electric. The winter break is about to begin and schools across the region are abuzz with anticipation. Today I miss being a principal.

What would I be up to on this day if I were still on the job? I would be attired in my holiday finery presiding over the festive assemblies of my school community. First the younger children in grades pre-k to grade 4 would participate in our holiday celebration. Then after they returned to their classrooms, the children in grades 5 to 8 would take their place.

During my tenure as principal of Meade school, assemblies were regular events in the weekly schedule. Professional musicians and dancers would perform for the children at various times throughout the year. We would host groups who presented mini-plays on healthy eating habits, fire safety, and character education. But by far my favorite gatherings were our bi-weekly literacy assemblies. This community meeting was a Meade School institution. It was a structured ritual that was part of the mortar that held our community together.

The Meade School literacy assembly was broken up into three distinct parts. First off a pre-selected classroom would give a performance. During the course of the year, every classroom was scheduled to perform at this event. There were a variety of formats that the teachers and children would use to make their presentations. The children might act out a favorite story. This was an audience favorite. The younger children would most typically recite a collection of familiar poems. Singing a special song was also a popular act.

After the classroom performance, our student musicians would perform a musical selection that they had been practicing in their music classes. We had a number of different ensembles that were part of our music program. They would all use this venue in order to acquire performance experience.

Finally I would close the show by reading aloud a story to the assembled group.

The literacy assembly that took place just before the winter break would include holiday music and themes. For my read aloud to the younger children, I used the book, The Night Before Christmas. At the second assembly, I would read The Grinch Who Stole Christmas to the children in grades 5 to 8. This was my favorite reading day of the whole school year.

When we first initiated these literacy assemblies, some of my staff expressed concern that the seventh and eighth grade students would be insulted by my reading a childish book to them. This turned out to be an inaccurate prediction. The older students were my best audience. The annual reading of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas was one of the more frequently sited memories in the eighth grade graduation class book. Children of all ages need regular meaningful enrichment activities in their school lives to develop their full potential and to feel a vital part of their learning community.

In my years as an educator, I have often noticed that the children of low resourced communities are frequently viewed as being so “in-deficit” educationally that they aren’t permitted the time for these kinds of activities that children of more affluent communities routinely experience in their school lives.

This mindset can currently best be seen in the test prep factories that some school reform leaders advocate. In Philadelphia, the Empowerment Schools are being turned into this type of mindless organization. In these institutions, the work of students and teachers are centered on activities that our current school leaders purport will raise student test scores. Teachers are expected to read scripts to their students for most of the day. The students are required to either listen to their teachers read aloud to them or to complete drill and skill instructional worksheets. In this school world, everyone is expected to hurry up and not waste time. Children are empty vessels that must be quickly filled with knowledge. In the race to increase test scores, only reading and math lessons are considered important. Assemblies, field trips, social studies and science lessons or any learning activities that will take the children “off the script” are deemed unnecessary and frivolous in these schools.

It is as though the Grinch himself is crawling his way through every room of Empowerment Schools as he steals away anything and everything that makes learning an enriching and joyful experience. This is a sad thing to do to school communities where the children are most in need of access to a wide variety of resource and experiences that will help them to develop not only academic proficiency but also social and emotional well being.

When I read The Grinch to my students, we all took joy in the ending of the story. We cheered when the Grinch’s heart grew six times larger and he saw the error of his plan to steal Christmas. I wish some day I can cheer with joy when the error of the instructional program being forced on Empowerment Schools is finally recognized and corrected. That will be the day I will really wish to be a principal once again.



30 Nov

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN THE CHILDREN KEEP CHANGING? Reflections of an Author Submitted by Frank Murphy, November 30, 2010 There were one hundred seven kids in the second grade class; thirty-two of them were still at Meade in fifth grade … This turnover of students represented a two year 70% transient rate.  It is difficult to sustain program improvements and student growth when a major portion of your student population leaves after such a short period of time.” (Frank Murphy, in Confessions of an Urban Principal)

I was not alone in giving scant attention to the high rate of student transiency that characterized my school.  Most schools that serve communities with a high percentage of poor and minority students have high rates of yearly student turnover.  This isn’t just an urban school district phenomenon.  There are suburban and rural schools that feel the impact of a highly mobile student population.  It is an area of concern that has not received a great deal of research attention.

The conclusions of available research studies are not clear as to whether poor student achievement is caused by student mobility or if mobility is one factor in poor student achievement resulting from the effects of poverty.  Studies that do not control for personal student characteristics have found that mobile students consistently underperform academically when compared to stable students within schools. Research studies that have controlled for differences in student background suggest that: “… Mobility might, be more of a symptom than a cause of poor school performance… In other words, mobile students came from poorer families and had lower academic performance before they were mobile.” Regardless of whether or not student mobility is or isn’t a cause of poor student achievement, it clearly can have a negative effect on children as well as the schools they attend. The school attendance of students who frequently relocate from one school to another is often interrupted.  These students suffer from a lack of continuity in the scope and content of their instruction.  They also have more limited ability to develop relationships with teachers and fellow students. Repeatedly adjusting to a new peer group and social expectations can lead to withdraw and misbehavior.  Skill acquisition suffers as a consequence, thus putting these students at higher risk of academic failure.  In addition to the negative effect that student mobility has on individual students, the impacts on the schools that serve large numbers of highly mobile students can be huge. A case study by Donna H. Sanderson lists three major concerns articulated by the teachers of a school with a large population of mobile students:

  • the amount of time teachers spend on addressing the needs of mobile students,
  • the lack of academic foundations these children exhibit,
  • and the effect the behavior and attitudes of mobile students can have on the overall classroom and school environment.

These too were the concerns of the Meade staff.  Registration paper work, placement testing, intake interviews, and tracking down records from the sending schools frequently demanded the time and attention of our office staff and leadership team.  Classroom teachers coped with the challenge of maintaining a stable and productive classroom culture as they faced multiple student entrances and exits.  Making progress with the students they started with in September was made more difficult when they regularly had to instructionally reach back in order to pull forward a steady stream of new students. New arrivals like Devon, a fourth grader who was in need of a emotional support program, Saundra, a fifth grade girl who was determined to make her presence known to her new classmates, and the Island twins, who weren’t going to be pushed around by anyone, were but  a few of the  newcomers who tested our ability to  keep  our school calm, orderly and on track.  In order to do so, we realized that every student who entered our school must be quickly assimilated into our school culture. To this end, instructional activities and objectives in every classroom focused on engaging students in meaningful learning tasks.  These tasks sought to develop students’ skills at synthesizing, analyzing and evaluating information in all content areas.  Classroom cultures were created that encouraged children to take responsibility for their own behavior.  All students were expected to make their thinking public and to be accountable for the accuracy of the knowledge they used to answer questions and/or draw conclusions.  Developing the problem solving skills of our students was a high priority focus. A variety of engaging activities in art, music, drama, physical education, logic, and poetry were integrated into our instructional program for our students.  A school- wide culture was created.  The public spaces of the building were beautified and made to feel homey and cozy.  Student works and seasonal decorations dressed the hallways, auditorium and cafeteria.  Opportunities were provided for children to help plan and manage school-wide projects such as a school recycling project, serving breakfast in classrooms, creating murals, and maintaining hallway gardens. Children were rewarded for their positive contributions to the school community.  Regularly scheduled literacy assemblies and community celebrations reinforced the idea that we were one community.  In short, we worked to create a powerful and pervasive school culture, one that aided and supported our students in developing a clear understanding of how a productive citizen of Meade school acted. Creating a consistent and engaging community was not an easy feat. It took many years to accomplish.   The steadily increasing test scores of Meade School students over the last five years offers proof to the effectiveness of using this holistic strategy to address the needs of both our stable and mobile student body. Increasing student academic achievement at Meade School wasn’t just a matter of our teachers believing that our children could perform well on standardized tests.  Nor did it result from creating a narrow focus on the rote memorization of facts, rules and procedures math and language arts.  Our success can be attributed to our creation of a pervasive school culture that engaged every student and encouraged him or her to regularly use higher-level thinking skills. In time the mobility rate at our school declined. Families still moved as they pursued better housing opportunities but increasing numbers of parents began to leave their children enrolled at Meade.   As our student population became more stable, we saw significant increases in our test scores.  Our response to the problem of student mobility wasn’t a quick or easy fix.  It was a comprehensive one that in the long run helped many of our students to be more successful in school.



18 Nov

Reflections of an Author

Submitted by Frank Murphy, Nov.18, 2010

“The regional superintendent wanted to talk AYP numbers.  I joined him in this conversation.  It was more comfortable than provoking a confrontation.  It was safer.”

(Frank Murphy, in Confessions of an Urban Principal)

In retrospect, I have to admit that I didn’t understand the full scope and weight of the duties that I had assumed when I accepted the principal position at Meade School.  I thought that I had committed myself to a heightened level of responsibility within a high-needs school community.  In fact, I took on the greatest challenge of my career.

Every aspect of the school’s organizational structure needed attention.  The instructional program consisted of a hodgepodge of outdated instructional materials. The lessons that I observed in many of the classrooms lacked quality. They focused on low-level comprehension skills and barely challenged the students intellectually.   The physical facility was dingy and run down.  The staff was demoralized and frustrated.  Teachers closed their doors and worked in isolation.

Small groups of students and parents consumed major amounts of my time and attention.  These squeaky wheels of my school community were not well schooled in the finer arts of assertive persuasion. They made their presence known in an aggressive and bruising manner.   For them, getting their way often was a matter of engaging in a confrontation that was akin to a street brawl.

Serving this school community was intellectually taxing, time consuming, physically exhausting and emotionally draining.    It was a tough environment in which to survive and an even more difficult one in which to make progress.  But we did.  After several years of determined and purposeful improvement efforts in partnership with my staff,  life got better for everyone at Meade.

During these turbulent years, I reported to a supportive supervisor.   He was a strong and child-centered instructional leader, who was able to put himself into the shoes of the people with whom he worked.  Whenever I needed support I knew that I could count on his help.  He was a great asset for a building principal who often felt as though he was walking through a minefield.

This all changed when Paul Vallas took charge of the Philadelphia School District.  Vallas reorganized the regions and shifted leaders into different positions. As a result of this change, I found myself working with a different regional superintendent.  Vallas had instructed him to identify schools within his region who would adopt Voyager, a new scripted reading program. The new regional wanted Meade School to participate in the implementation of this pilot program.

Participation meant that the Meade teachers would have to abandon the balanced literacy program that they had developed together over several years. The students were experiencing a good degree of academic success, as their teachers became more effective reading instructors.   Reading scores were steadily improving in every grade. It didn’t make sense to give up what was working in order to implement this new untested reading program.  I declined the invitation only to discover that my regional superintendent considered participation in this project to be mandatory.

After several unsuccessful attempts to explain my reason for declining, I decided to recruit the help of friends within the district.  These friends showed Meade’s test scores to Vallas’ chief literacy advisor.  She was impressed by our results and recommended that we not be included in the pilot program. Mr. Vallas accepted her recommendation.    The regional superintendent was unhappy with being overruled.  He wouldn’t talk to me after this decision was made.  I realized then that I wasn’t safe as long as he was my supervisor, but I wasn’t sorry for the actions that I had taken.   The future success of my students was far more important to me than appeasing my boss.

Not long after we won our reprieve, this regional superintendent was reassigned.  Though I didn’t have to worry about retribution from him, my problems were far from over.  His replacement was an even more prescriptive, top down manager. So was the next regional superintendent and the one after that.

School reform efforts that were generated as a result of No Child Left Behind created a whole new world in the Philadelphia School District. All that mattered was making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  It was a world where it was best for principals to do as they were told. Being safe rather than sorry was the path that many principals took as they responded to the pressure of making AYP.

In this new school world, I tried to take the safest route whenever possible.  But I never allowed caution to interfere with my efforts to make meaningful and enduring changes at my school.

When I made the decision to become the principal of Meade School, I was determined to be an effective rather a cautious leader. I believed then that I should do the right thing for my students.

I still do.



16 Nov

Reflections of an Author

Submitted by Frank Murphy, November 16, 2010

Wasn’t it only a few years ago that it was all the rage at business and education seminars to share the poem Everything I Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten?  Today as I consider the direction of school reform efforts in our nation, I wonder if this poem has been read by any of the prominent drivers of the national educational agenda identified by Dianne Ravitch, in her recent book.  The perspective offered by the principal of Smedley Elementary School in a recent Notebook Post concerning the needs of his students, brought this question clearly in focus for me. At an assembly for Kindergarten and first graders, he told his students:

“We don’t have a minute to waste,” …“The clock is ticking.”

This principal is referring to the need for his primary grade students to learn basic literacy skills as quickly as possible.   This sentiment is in line with the nouveau reformers’ view that a sense of urgency is needed in school communities in order to close achievement gaps among various sub groups of students.   According to their reasoning, this must be done if America is to keep its competitive edge in the global economy.  It is a popular rationale for explaining the need to reform America’s public school systems.

So now it is the academic performance of our five and six year olds which is a threat to the dominance of our country as the powerhouse leader of the world.   This is quite a burden to place on the tiny shoulders of our youngest citizens.

What this perspective ignores is the natural developmental needs of young children.  They are human beings, not objects that can be tooled and formed into a product. Children are shaped by and in turn, shape the environment in which they live.  The learning environments that best serve young children are friendly, nurturing and responsive to their developmental needs. They are warm communities that protect children from inappropriate punishments and disapproval. In order to be truly successful in school, young children need to have many opportunities that allow them to explore the world, to play and to learn how to communicate effectively with others. This takes time.

There are significant differences in how young children relate to the school experience but this has more to do with biological embedding than with a so called academic achievement gap.   Biological embedding is the process of early experiences shaping brain and biological development in ways that influence the development of people over the course their lives.

Adults who are successful in the workplace and productive members of their community can attribute much of their success to the social skills and cognitive-linguistic capacities that they developed early in life.  These abilities are best developed in children through learning environments that value children’s emotional well being and encourage the development of social competence.  This requires educators to implement instructional programs and create learning environments that give equal attention to providing young children a variety of meaningful social, emotional and cognitive experiences that expand their understanding of the world, as well as teaching them basic skills.

The current emphasis placed on highly scripted instructional programs by school leaders who advocate managed instruction as the preferred reform strategy in schools with low test scores, ignores the need to educate the whole child.   The Philadelphia schools that have been targeted for turn around are drawn from the lowest resourced communities of the city.  The students who populate these school communities are most in need of a learning environment that provides a balanced instructional approach in addressing their development needs.

Constructing meaning and developing understanding of how the world operates is a challenging and demanding task.  It isn’t a process that can be hurried.  People learn and master tasks at their own speed.  Wise educators understands this fact.  Instead of attempting to force children to learn at a uniform rate, they acknowledge the well-researched realities of child development.  Good teachers and principals create positive school environments.  They attend to the social-emotional as well as academic needs of their students.  The curriculum they design to guide their students’ learning is relevant, enriching and supportive of their students’ developmental needs.

The  “hurry up, not a moment to be wasted” model of school reform emphasizes skill and drill/ test prep instructional approaches over more holistic, in-depth instructional practices.   How this limited instructional approach will help children to develop proficiency as flexible thinkers and solvers of complex problems, is not clear.  Even more muddled is how a return to the factory model of education of the mid-twentieth century will prepare children to compete in the world of work of the twenty-first century.


Reflections of an Author

28 Oct

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Submitted by Frank Murphy, Oct. 28, 2010

“ It was that the boy kicked Armand in the butt. That really made me mad. It reminded me of when Armand’s father kicked me in the butt. It really hurt. I was pregnant then with Armand’s sister. He almost made me fall down the steps. I had him arrested. He went to jail for three years. I’m not holding any grudge now. He paid for what he did to me, after he was arrested. He hurt me again before he went to trial. He came over to my sister’s house and beat me. That’s what that boy reminded me of. It made me really mad.”

(Ms Miller, mother of a fourth grade boy in Confessions of an Urban Principal: October)

According to research studies posted on the Domestic Violence Resource Center’s web site approximately 25% of American women have been victims of domestic violence at some point in their adult lives. Further studies sited by the DVRC suggest that between 3.3 and 10 million children annually are witnesses of domestic violence in some form.  The National Organization for Women reports that a disproportionate percentage of female victims of abuse are young women, low-income women and minority women.  When race is considered, African American women are victimized at higher rates than white women.

Domestic abuse has a tremendous impact on both the victims and their children, particularly in low-resources communities. In the school setting, this can affect both the academic performance and overall behavior of children.  Children who witness domestic violence often suffer post-traumatic stress. This results in excessive absences, which in turn can impede academic progress.  Some children respond to this stress by acting out violently in the classroom, thus disrupting the learning environment for others.

Making the connection that poor student behavior and academic performance might be related to domestic violence is not obvious to a classroom teacher.   It wasn’t until after I had many years of experience as an educator that my awareness of this problem was heightened.

When I assumed the role of principal at Meade Elementary School, I became actively involved in the grim reality of the impact of domestic abuse on my students and their parents. The negative life experiences of these adults regularly played a role in how they interacted with the school and often determined how they reacted to events in their children’s life.  For some parents, like Ms. Miller, a displacement of their own hurts into their children’s experiences prevented them from finding acceptable resolutions to their children’s problems at school.

Responding to this special kind of parent situation was something in which I had no formal training or professional development. I was well versed in child development, pedagogy, school law, finances, policy development, personnel practices and a variety of other useful management skills and practices.  I had many years of experience as a teacher, administrator and instructional leader.  But this extensive background still wasn’t enough to properly prepare me to handle the complexity of issues related to these troubled parents.  Handling the negative effects of domestic violence on the school climate and individual student achievement were skills I eventually had to develop on my own.

Over time, my growth as an educator and social activist has been informed by the realization that the serious problems confronting parents does affect how well their children will perform in school.  When I recognized that the explosive behavior of angry and uncooperative parents was often a matter of their projecting feelings of unresolved personal hurts and problems, I was better able to be of assistance to them.    This assistance was critical to helping their children be able to thrive in school, both socially and academically.

Schools that serve their communities well, focus on not only creating rigorous and challenging instructional programs and safe school climates for their students, but also on helping parents to obtain the supports they need to be successful parents.

It is time that educators and society in general begin to work harder at developing a deeper awareness of the serious challenges and problems that confront the parents of some our most fragile students.

It is this aspect of school reality that is not often accounted for in the school reform rhetoric.  Student achievement can be adversely affected by a great number of variables, which may or not be within the ability of a school to control.  This knowledge has served me well in pursuit of my own school reform efforts.  But this kind of knowledge needs to be part of a formalized training for teachers and administrators.  Such training initiatives won’t happen until we recognize the significance of factors such as these and make them part of the accountability equation.  In doing so, perhaps we can create better solutions for dealing with societal problems instead of blaming teachers and schools.



19 Oct

Reflections of an Author

Submitted by Frank Murphy, Oct. 19, 2010

In yesterday’s installment of Confessions of an Urban Principal, I described one parent’s concern that another child was bullying her son in his class.  The bully in this case was a special education student who had been identified as suffering from serious emotional problems.  He was a new student who had recently been admitted to the school.   In schools like Meade, where there are many transient students, it is not an uncommon event to have the climate of the school seriously disrupted by the sudden arrival of a deeply troubled child.

This situation described above is illustrative of the complexities of dealing with these disruptive students.  The aggressive behavior exhibited by the special education student towards the other child was a manifestation of his disability.  Therefore our student support team needed to develop a positive behavior plan for him.  The purpose of this plan was to help this child to redirect his actions in a more socially appropriate manner. Of course this is not what the parent of the child who is being bullied wanted to hear.  She wanted her son to feel safe and the bully to be punished.

Dealing with bullies and the fall out from their actions is difficult. In the weeks and months ahead, other examples of how bullies wreck havoc on a school community will be described in the regularly posted installments of Confessions of an Urban Principal.  Some of these bullies are students, others are parents, and regrettably, a handful of these people are school district employees.


Call for Stories

14 Oct

Take a stand. Speak up. Insist on being included in the discussion.


Submitted by Frank Murphy on, Oct. 14, 2010

The purpose of City School is to tell the story of urban public education in America from the perspectives of the principals and teachers who daily work and live in city school communities.  These are the people who best know what is taking place in any particular school.   Yet they are seldom offered the opportunity to describe or explain their work to the general public.

Now that this site is established, I invite readers to share your stories concerning your own classrooms and schools.

If you teach in an empowerment school, talk about your experiences so far with the new scripted instructional program.

Stories from teachers who are staffing the new Promise Academies would be of great interest.

If you are teaching at a school that is piloting the new weighted funding formula, talk about any effect this new budgeting process has had on your school.

Are you in one of the one hundred or so schools that have received a new principal, if so how well is the leadership transition taking places?

New teachers what kinds of supports are you receiving in your new positions?

You could talk about student management, parent involvement, and colleague collaboration.  You decide what story to tell.

We daily accomplish our mission of educating the youth of our society and we need to let the world know of our successes.  Your comments and personal stories will help to tell the general public of our challenges and rewards as urban educators.   Most importantly, by creating a forum to collectively tell our own stories we say that we will not continue to be passive victims of ill-conceived school reform strategies.  We instead insist on being recognized and treated as the knowledgeable professional educators that we are.

Send your stories to