Friday, February 03, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Principal rising star

Henry Anderson, the new principal at Jacksonville High School, has opened a dialogue with students and teachers. He has formed a principal’s cabinet, which includes some of the brightest students at the high school.

They told Anderson last weekend that they’re not happy with the dilapidated conditions at the school. They want better teachers and an environment that’s more conducive to learning.

A survey of students and teachers, which Anderson shared with the principal’s cabinet, produced troubling responses.

The survey revealed mostly shared concerns: The poor state of the building, the performance of students and teachers and a lack of pride in the campus.

Students said many of their teachers have poor attitudes and don’t understand how to teach. A junior who attended the meeting asked, “If they don’t have the passion, what is going to inspire us?”

Students also complained about the aging school building being dirty and even having a bug problem.

They want someone to get the school under control, set standards for students and teachers by increasing expectations.

Members of the principal’s cabinet also criticized aimless classmates who don’t care about studying. There were complaints about drug use, crowded hallways, teen pregnancy, bullying and fights – problems that could become overwhelming for faculty members.

Students want better computer technology classes, more time to study, a dress code and more extracurricular activities.

Teachers said the school lacks positive and encouraging collaboration among the faculty; that they don’t receive enough recognition for their successes; that district officials have failed to take action on gangs; that students ignore rules and don’t take pride in the campus, and that teachers lack support from administrators and parents.

Teachers also complained about the poor condition of the school; the need for additional technology training; that there has been a failure to deal with incompetent teachers, and a failure to improve classroom management. In short, staff members have no sense of unity.

After completing the school census, Principal Anderson is prepared to improve the attitudes of students and teachers. He now knows exactly what is weighing on their minds.

Both groups want the same thing. With a good leader in charge, these problems can be fixed.

The principal says morale isn’t the problem with his teachers. “I think it’s teachers reaching a standard. There hasn’t been a standard for years,” Anderson pointed out.

Anderson is open and honest. He has a passion and talent for addressing problems head-on. Concerning discipline, he knows yelling doesn’t work, but that being stern and consistent does.

He is a “speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick” kind of man, but his good humor helps him connect with students when they are behaving well.

He has high expectations for his colleagues. While some teachers may not like being so closely supervised, it is the only way to separate those who really want to fix Jacksonville High School from those who are content with its failures.

Anderson is an optimist who believes that the Pulaski County Special School District and JHS can reach their full potential.

Unlike his predecessors, Anderson will use his power to transfer under-performing teachers. He would be wise to reward faculty members who do their jobs well.

There may never be a better opportunity to change the school’s course. Although the professional agreement with the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers remains in force, the state Education Department took control of the district last summer and disbanded the dysfunctional school board.

PCSSD officials have announced 75 facility improvement projects at a cost of $7 million, most of them for dilapidated schools in Jacksonville and Sherwood schools. Improvements at Jacksonville High School will include roof work, intercom and bell systems, stadium-lighting fixtures, new stage lighting and controls and adding a new gas line. That’s a start. The school needs more good teachers, and the building needs a complete overhaul. After Anderson restores Jacksonville High School to its glory days and the district is released from oversight by the state, we’ll recommend him as the next superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District. He’s that good.