From 1923-1951, Parker District served mill villages and was among best in the US. What happened to excellent public education?
¬†Recently, I attended a tribute to Pete Hollis, who was superintendent of the Parker District from 1923-1951. It served mill villages in the textile crescent of west Greenville. Parker High was named among the "Top Ten High Schools Scholastically in America" five times, despite serving children whose parents could barely sustain their families and who themselves weren't educated. Many people at the tribute had been students at Parker.
Pete Hollis did not say they had to fix poverty before the schools could perform, as many in the education establishment do today. The Parker schools were the road out of poverty. Children gained opportunities to a better life because the school performed, not the other way around. What came first was excellent schools.
I asked people at the Hollis tribute one-on-one what happened? Why isn't there still a Parker High School of the same excellent quality? To a person they had the same answer. Parker District was taken over by the Greenville County School District, who changed how the schools were managed.
Performance problems in industry, government or education are management failures. Period. The Greenville County School District is accountable for the performance of schools today. It is not possible for a Pete Hollis to exist in the culture of the public school system. Virginia Uldrick, founder of the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities, has told me the same thing. She said could not have founded the Governor's School inside the culture of the existing public school system.
Everyone last night said the difference between how Pete Hollis managed his district and the way public education is managed today is Hollis was student centric and today the system is not. Hollis educated to the individual needs of each child. Parker was a comprehensive high school where students could prepare for a vocational career or prepare for college.
Before you dismiss the vocational track as low quality education, I met a man at the tribute who went through the vocational track at Parker. He had been trained to be a mechanic, and also had been taught the basics of running a small business. When he graduated from high school, he bought a service station, which he ran for seven years and built a decent nest egg when he sold the business. For the next forty years he managed the motor pool at Furman University. He got bored in his retirement, and today he runs a locksmith company. There was joy in his voice as he was telling his life story.
The current public school system crams students through a one size first all system. High stakes testing of facts has only exacerbated this problem. That is why the current system fails over half the kids who enter it. There is no time to teach someone to be a mechanic, much less to teach them to run a small business. The public school system culture we have is obsolete at best and broken at worst. There is no evidence it will change from the inside out. It will only change when there is a significant outside force that forces it to change.
Teachers are as much victims of the current system as students. When parents have choices, then educators like Pete Hollis and Virginia Uldrick will be empowered to create schools and systems like Parker that are student centered. And when a new student centered culture of education begins to grow outside of the current public school establishment, it will force the current establishment to change.
That's the way innovation works.
Submitted by: John Warner on Sep 07, 2009 at 10:10 pm
Source: Parker District