Talking to Paul Pratt about Berryhill School this week made me ponder our vision of school reform.
The education documentary "Waiting for Superman" gave us an image of reformers flying in, shaking up old systems and bringing hope to the children of the inner city.
"I've been here 11 years because I want to be, not because I have to be," Pratt said.
It's a pattern I've seen before: When you find schools that beat the odds, the key seems to be the front-line educators, not a reform program. Unfortunately, that's what makes success so hard to replicate.
Last year I looked for the highest-performing high-poverty school in CMS and stumbled across Windsor Park Elementary, where principal Kevin Woods and his faculty had managed to stay under the radar and out of the CMS reform vortex.
Former Superintendent Peter Gorman got national acclaim for his strategic staffing program, which brought in new principals and gave them money to provide hiring bonuses to recruit high-performing faculty. But a close look showed the most significant gains were at two schools run by veteran principals who had a track record with urban schools, Suzanne Gimenez at Devonshire Elementary and Nancy Guzman at Sterling Elementary.
Just months before Gorman left, Berryhill was added to the strategic staffing program. Gorman and the board had just decided to close troubled middle schools and move those students to eight elementaries, including Berryhill. Instead of bringing in a new principal, Gorman kept Pratt but provided money for recruitment bonuses as he sought middle school staff.
Pratt was blunt when I asked if strategic staffing had helped Berryhill succeed: "No." He hired his new teachers through normal channels, he said, and used the extra money to award bonuses to the teachers who had stuck with the school.
Every five years or so, CMS searches for a "superman" with the charisma, energy and vision to rally our diverse community around public schools. We need those leaders, and the superintendent's job demands extraordinary skills.
But it's good to remember the work being done by all those Clark Kents outside the spotlight.