Letting schools make more of their own decisions could make them better. After all, who knows the needs of a school's students better than the principal, teachers and parents there? Working with that philosophy, the Pinellas School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to take the first step toward school-based decisionmaking, agreeing to hold a public hearing on the new policy. It is a step in the right direction, but the district needs to continue to move cautiously and methodically.
Pinellas is wisely starting with only a small cadre of principals who are volunteering to test the concept and giving them thorough training. The district also must be specific about which decisions remain centralized and which will fall to the individual schools. And while cutting through bureaucracy is a good thing, board members need to move forward with their eyes open. The job of principal will fundamentally change under this new system, and the successful ones will have to stiffen their backbones to make some unpopular but necessary decisions that affect people they see every day. No longer will a faceless, distant bureaucrat be the culprit.
Some principals will thrive, and others will fail. The district cannot let their schools fail with them. There must be clear benchmarks for success, and the district must hold principals accountable to meeting them. These must not be squishy goals. They must be measurable by hard data. For example, are more students reading at or above grade level?
This is particularly important as schools become more identifiable by racial and economic indicators, particularly in south Pinellas. They must have principals who are able to rally the school and its community around success. They must be given the resources to succeed and the freedom to do so. But they will bear ultimate responsibility for the students under their care.
Because principals would each use different methods, there should be more opportunity to find alternative ways to raise achievement. The best principals will always to be looking to adapt what works at other schools to their own particular situation. So at its best, this system could be a laboratory to incubate school innovation.
School-based decisionmaking would fundamentally change the way schools are run in Pinellas. It is a seismic change. So while it is wise for the district to go forward, it is also smart to tread carefully each step along the way.
Gov. Charlie Crist took office in January 2007, 28 months ago. An editorial on Wednesday was incorrect on the length of his tenure.