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Principals as Maverick


Rethinking Democratic Schools 

by Sharron Goldman Walker and Michael Chirichello, Rowman & Littlefield Education, Lanham, Md., 2011, 252 pp., $28.99 softcover


What makes us believe what we’re doing in education is right? Where do educators secure their values on how schools should be designed? How do we measure success — by test scores or teaching kids how to learn?

How does a school administrator answer these questions in a world of high-stakes accountability? These are some of the questions addressed in Principals as Maverick Leaders: Rethinking Democratic Schools.

Author Sharron Goldman Walker brings more than three decades of experience as a teacher and principal to this work. Her experience has earned her multiple awards and recognition for school improvement by advocating for democratic methods. Her co-author, Michael Chirichello, has spent 40 years in education.

The story begins with a principal’s endeavor to create a better school where kids learn how to learn, in addition to scoring well on tests. The principal believes in “Quantumland,” described as the “intersection of relationships within a social system that thrives on balanced feedback loops.” The principal becomes heavily involved with staff, students and community members in a series of dialogues on “why they do, what they do,” to create a more humane and responsive school system that will better meet everyone’s needs.

However, in this scenario, the superintendent is simply looking for higher test scores. While the results of this “Quantumland” experiment are accepted by students, staff and the community, the superintendent finds the final test scores less than acceptable in comparison to other schools in the district.

The authors show that a regimented education format fails to address the needs of students, and the elements of a school system need to be in sync in order to teach kids how to learn. The authors embark on a path of democratic engagement with the staff, students and community to seek a school that meets these standards.

The text is an appropriate introduction to the principalship, for administrators to ask questions about the foundations for their own educational beliefs and how they can best meet the needs of students. Though the democratic elements of “Quantumland” were addressed in the 1970s, revisiting those ideas now just may produce new best practices.

Reviewed by Jerry Horgen, adjunct professor, Capella University, Minneapolis, Minn.


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