Dr. Matthew Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch
Langston, Oklahoma, USA
December 31
Langston University
As a professor of education, I am, first and foremost, committed to developing outstanding K-12 teachers. That’s because I believe that highly qualified and passionate educators are the best instruments to improve education in K-12 settings. I am the Chairman of the Department of Elementary/Special Education and an Associate Professor of Education at Langston University, and I spent seven years as a K-12 teacher – an experience that gave me an intimate view of the challenges facing genuine education reform. Before assuming my position at Langston, I spent three years as an Assistant Professor of Education and Director of Secondary and Social Studies Programs at Widener University. With that experience behind me, I’ve focused the second stage of my career on researching topics related to education reform, the achievement gap, and teacher education. What I’ve found is that improving teacher education is an essential component in closing the achievement gap. My articles and op eds appear regularly in the Huffington Post, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Education Week, and Education World. I’ve also written numerous peer- reviewed articles, which have appeared in academic journals such as AASA Journal of Scholarship & Practice, International Journal of Progressive Education, Academic Leadership Journal, and others. In addition, I’ve authored and edited a number of books on school reform and school leadership. Please visit my website at www.drmattlynch.com for more information.


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FEBRUARY 29, 2012 4:23PM

Friendly Advice for the Chester Upland School District

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you have probably heard about Chester Upland School District's (hereafter referred to CUSD) financial woes. Also, you have heard the heartfelt story of its teachers agreeing to work for free, because the district's coffers were almost bare. On top of that, it has been reported that the district holds about $85 million dollars in long term debt. Well, a short term solution has long been arranged and Governor Corbett has agreed to fund the district until the end of the year.

In addition to its financial shortcomings, the district's schools are failing to achieve academically. CUSD is in its 9th year of corrective action, and has an embarrassing 51% graduation rate. In the CUSD, 16% of 11th grade students scored proficient or above in math and 25% scored proficient or above in reading. As far as who's responsible for the district's financial and academic woes, I am not willing to delve into that hornet's nest, although I have my theories. Instead of playing the "blame game" I think it's important that all the stakeholders work together to create a viable school reform plan. CUSD's problems have been brewing for several decades and the older generation can tell you exactly how things went downhill.

I work at Widener University in Chester and in fact my office is only one-fourth of a mile from CUSD's central office. As an advocate for America's children and a school reformer, I think it's time that I offer the district some friendly advice concerning how they should proceed. Contrary to popular belief, the district's financial problems are only the tip of the iceberg and will eventually work themselves out through increased funding and other measures.

However, before the CUSD begins the school reform process, there are a litany of issues and problems that it must deal with. First, it has yet to hire a permanent superintendent and deputy superintendent. In order for the district to move forward, it must fill its leadership vacuum with transcendent leaders who possess the wherewithal to tackle its complex issues. Next, the school board is made up five Republicans/four Democrats and while tensions have been relatively low during the recent budget crisis, the board is still extremely partisan. If the CUSD is going to get back on track, it is going to take a bi-partisan effort.

The most critical question that district leaders must ask themselves is: where do we begin? When trying to start reform in a complex environment such as the city of Chester, it is imperative that leaders focus on one task at a time. When making decisions, the district's administration needs to be sure to complete all steps of the reform in sequential order, using a strategic way of thinking.

Successful school systems share a number of common traits. These include: effective leadership, safe learning environments, strong family and community partnerships, opportunities for increased time on task, incorporation of instructional best practices, interventions for underperforming students, continuous assessment of student achievement, and lofty expectations for all students. The CUSD should keep these traits in mind as they begin the school reform process.

School reform is about creating an environment in which students are the priority and adults assist them in starting and finishing their journey to becoming educated citizens. I know that the CUSD is blessed with competent teachers and leaders, but it doesn't hurt to listen to the advice of someone on the outside looking in. I wish the CUSD much success in its school reform efforts and if you need help, I'm only one-fourth of a mile away.

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What a bunch of blither: "School reform is about creating an environment in which students are the priority and adults assist them in starting and finishing their journey to becoming educated citizens. "

No, first the school system has to identify the reasons their students aren't achieving. Next it has to address those issues.

If the environment is one of the major problems, then address it. (And what environment are you talking about? Physical? Security? School spirit? Do you have a leaking roof, gang activity in the corridors, or a pervasive culture of failure? Do you need a roofer, a policeman, or a motivational speaker?)

Reform that isn't looking at the specific educational roadblocks but is focused on 'creating an environment' and 'filling the leadership vacuum with transcendent leaders' is a process without a purpose.

Here's what I would propose, knowing nothing about the school system's woes: I'd start by interviewing the principals. If they are competent, they can outline the biggest problems. If it is decaying school buildings, your superintendent needs to be good at getting overseeing building budgets. If the principals don't know what the hell is going on, attracting and coaching good principals would be a priority. And if learning is the issue, you might need a superintendent who would focus on curriculum.

Note, these are different sets of skills, which are specific in a way 'transcendent leader' isn't.

Further, while a 'transcendent leader' would be nice, can you identify one? And if so, can you hire him? Unless you are sure the answer to both questions is yes, which I doubt, based on my limited knowledge of Chester and the obvious budget issue, you would be better off defining a specific set of skills you want the superintendent to have. After hiring him, you hire your deputy to complement him.