I got a call yesterday from Dr. Fred.
About ten years ago and for about ten years before that he was our district’s superintendent.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a great fan of administrators.
But every once in a while one comes along that makes me think twice.
Dr. Fred called to apologize for missing my retirement party (write me for details about time and place). He retired and is living out west now. He told me he would have come but his niece is getting married that same weekend in some little town 100 miles south of Chicago.
I know the place. It’s a farming town founded by German immigrants over 100 years ago. I know the place because when Dr. Fred’s mom died, a bunch of us took the day off to go to the funeral.
Took a personal day to go to our superintendent’s mother’s funeral.
I know. It doesn’t sound like me. Right?
The board hired Dr. Fred to get a referendum passed. And he did.
But he did more than that.
He read a column by Richard Rothstein who wrote on education at the time for the New York Times. Rothstein advocated for a broad curriculum that educated the whole child.
That’s kind of cliche now. But it actually had some meaning then.
And Rothstein wrote about power that was dispersed and site-based school decision-making.
Sounds almost cute to think about that in the current education climate.
Dr. Fred took those ideas to the union and to the board of education and brought Rothstein in.
Soon we were meeting to create staff leadership teams in every building and early release time for grade level and building meetings that had agendas that were driven by teacher questions.
Then these concepts became points of bargaining and were included as language in our Collective Bargaining Agreement.
I was president of our Association at the time.
I don’t want it to seem like there were no disagreements. I mean I was both an employee and a union president. These two hats were often difficult for Dr. Fred to compartmentalize, as they were for me.
But Dr. Fred believed in the role of our Association as the teachers’ voice and he respected it. More than that, he saw it as necessary for student success.
We don’t see that much any more. Administrative heels get dug in. There are more grievances than ever. The curriculum is as narrow as a razor’s edge.
Dr. Fred was a rare superintendent then. Rarer now.
“Gotta get that Obama elected,” he told me when he called the other day.
I was, frankly, less than enthusiastic.
“Oh, I know. That…what is it? That Race to the Top stuff. What a bunch of crap that is,” he said.
And we talked about how his state was a swing state and how bad the alternative would be.
That’s Dr. Fred. The kind of superintendent who a few years after he retired, came to town and called to go out for a beer.
Or who would call me to go with him to hear Ted Sizer give a talk at UIC.
When I mentioned his call to a colleague, she responded, “That’s a superintendent that cared about his people–and knew our faces and names.”
That doesn’t seem like it ought to be a very high bar.
But it is.