Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Vicki Phillips

I went to the Rotary Club lunch today where Vicki Phillips, Sup't of Portland Public Schools was giving a "report card" on the schools.

Vicki Phillips is a very good big city school district superintendent. She's smart, forceful, and knows what she wants to accomplish. She's tough minded and fair. She's honest. She spoke about her efforts to make the PPS system serve the taxpayers better than it has been doing over the last decade or so.

And I don't doubt she will be able to do it. She will manage the Portland School District better than any previous superintendent, and do it in the most challenging of times.

Unfortunately, that is not what we need. The district needs a leader who will change its structure. A Gorbachov, if you will. Gorbachov knew that the Soviet model was outdated, destined to take its place on the dustheap of failed governance models. He, the last of the communist leaders of the USSR, shepherded its transition to a new model, a new structure.

He understood the inexorable reality of the coming 21st century world, and he let the governance structure of his country collapse, which it was destined to do.

Large urban school districts face a similar choice today. Their structure is completely outdated. Created for a 19th century world, the school district governance structure is uniquely ill-suited to handle 21st century social realities.

There are some big city superintendents who understand this. Oakland Superintendent Dennis Chaconis has spent the last three years aggressively closing failing schools and contracting them out to whoever he thinks will meet the rigorous performance objectives he negotiates with their successors. Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan launched the "Renaissance 2010" initiative, which seeks to start 100 new contract/charter/alternative schools in the district, all held to similar performance criteria.

THAT is the type of action that Portland School District needs. I like Vicki Phillips, but she is not a reformer.

Here's a hallmark of a reformer: Chaconis, Oakland's superintendent/reformer has THREE BODYGUARDS! His life is threatened every single day. THAT's how much he's shaking things up in Oakland.

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