Tough-Minded Innovator Likes Money As A Motivator In Schools

Schiller also supports achievement-salary link

Motivate teachers and students with money.
They deserve it, and taxpayers want what it buys, Robert Schiller, a candidate for Denver superintendent, said Wednesday.

Potential dropouts may stay in school with the guarantee of summer employment and other financial incentives, he said.

”The dropout rate is simply too high” especially among Hispanics, he said. And teachers ”ought to be very well-paid” if we want the best for schools, the former interim superintendent in Baltimore said.

He also supports the district’s proposal to link teacher raises to student performance – if it’s done in collaboration with teachers.

”It’s incumbent on us as professionals to return the investment to taxpayers by demanding we reach higher levels,” he said.

That’s all an example of how schools must change the way they look at the world, he said.

”Our schools are not changing at the rate our society has changed,” Schiller said during a forum attended by 140 people.

Schiller is no stranger to shaking things up. As chief in Baltimore in 1997-98 he fired and hired hundreds of people to begin a turnaround for the failing district.

One principal was so desperate to keep his job he begged Schiller – on his knees – to keep him until he could retire in two years.

”That’s a sad story,” Schiller said.

Not sad enough. He fired the man. Children could not wait for the principal’s leisure years.

”That gentleman had led that school to failure,” Schiller said. ”You have to separate business from the personal.
”The toughest part of running any major organization is being able to make tough decisions.”
Schiller praised Denver’s improvements in reading. He promised to boost reading and writing if he got the job.

The district’s curriculum must be better aligned with state standards, and teachers must be better trained to teach them, he said.

Students need an emphasis on comprehension and how to write about what they know, he said.

To break down barriers with the public, especially lower income people and minorities, he proposed moving board meetings and other functions out of headquarters and instead holding them around the city.

He wants schools to reach out more to communities and families.

”Schools in a vacuum cannot improve,” he said. ”Schools are closed systems. ”
Schiller, who has been trained in other languages, said he supports the district’s new bilingual program that seeks to move non-English speakers into mainstream classes in three years.

”If I come here, I should set the same three-year requirement (on himself) to become bilingual in Spanish,” he said.

Over the past 28 years Schiller, 52, has held state superintendent jobs in Michigan, Delaware and Louisiana and school chief jobs in New Jersey.

He said he wants to come to Denver because ”this is one of the few (big
cities) where the prospects of moving to the next level (of achievement) are very, very high.”

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