Building Better Schools

Those who spend their lives dealing with the everyday problems in the nation's schools are often wary of those who theorize solutions from the Ivory Tower.

"Normally I wouldn't touch Ed Schools with a 10-ft. pole, they seem to be working in a vacuum, without a lot of relevance to what I'm doing in my school," says Patricia S. Shaefer, an elementary school principal from Minneapolis Minn.

"This past week at Harvard has been an exception. I've discovered that theorists and practitioners can work together and help each other," adds Stacker.

"I feel like I've had a fine lit me. When I go back I'm going to shout from the mountain tops, 'there's hope we can improve our schools,'" says Joseph Segram, an elementary school principal from Mancouver, Washington.

Shaefer and Segram are two of the 118 elementary and secondary school principals and other administrators who have gathered at Harvard's Graduate School of Education over the past week-and a-half for lectures, discussions, and workshops focusing on ways to improve America's schools.

The intensive summer program, which ends this Thursday, is an extension of Harvard's Principals' Center, established four years ago a, part of renewed commitment to elementary and secondary education on the part of the Ed School. During the year, the center offers weekly programs to approximately 600 New England area principals.

"The school has definitely made a commitment to helping the faculty connect with [outside] schools. And while the school should never lose its research component, the trick is to continue to create programs that make the crucial connection between theory and practice," says Diane S. Tabor, assistant principal at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, who is also one of the program directors.

Over the course of this summer's 11-day "Institute on the Principal and School Improvement," the participants have spent mornings and evenings in discussions with some of the biggest names in educational theoris. including former Ed School Dean Theodore Sizer and Professor of Education Sara Lawrence Lightfoot. They have also spent afternoon with coach other. In group, sessions discussing the nuts and bolts of school leadership

The Institute now in its third year has a dual purpose. It offers principals an exposure to the latest in educational research, and provides them with a rare opportunity to share ideas with colleagues from 30 states and eight countries, according to Kenneth S. Haskins, co-director of the Ed School's Principals' Center

"We're past the point of worrying about what color the report cards should be; we're worrying about the future and what major changes have to be made," says participant Ira J. Scheter, the head of a school for military dependents in Izmir, Turkey.

"In the next 10 years we will be facing a teacher shortage, and following that, a shortage of school administrators. Offering them more money won't solve the problem, these people have to be recognized as playing an important social role," says Sarah L. Levine, director of the Institute.

Through the Institute, she says the school is carrying out its stated commitment of late to play a greater role in solving some of the larger problems in American education.

"The Institute is mutually beneficial. Practioners are so concerned with the everyday life of the institution, with keeping it going, that they don't always have time to bring new ideas to the surface. At the same time, practitioners have a whose lot of craft knowledge that rarely reaches the university setting," says Tabor.

New Ideas

As one of the major components of the Institute, the exposure to the latest research on schooling has inspired them to move in new directions, and revitalize their efforts to improve their schools, principals says.