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A Principal's Story
Ken Romines

Paper, 1997, 100 pages
ISBN 0-936434-98-8

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About the Book

Educator Ken Romines recounts the story of his two-year attempt to turn around a troubled elementary school in San Francisco's Mission District. Regarded by some as the "worst" elementary school in San Francisco, Edison Elementary faced deplorably low test scores, racial discord, disgruntled parents, angry neighbors, a divided faculty and many students who viewed the school as a place to "hang out" rather than a place to learn. Dr. Romines, with his community background and collaborative concept of education, seemed the ideal principal to turn the school around.

From the Foreword by Dr. Ramon Cortines

"Like many American schools, Edison serves the children in its own neighborhood as well as children from diverse, distant communities. Dr. Romines admits to being unprepared for the anger of parents whose children daily endured a 40-minute bus ride to Edison, or the hostility toward the bused children by parents in the Edison neighborhood. Or the ease with which five-year-olds absorbed their parents' biases. Or the distant families' reluctance to travel to Edison for parent conferences. Or the polarization among teachers about which children were "worth" making an effort to educate. These are old battles, exacerbated by society's increasing diversity."

Ramon Cortines is a former superintendent of public schools in San Francisco, San Jose and Pasadena, California and former chancellor of New York Public Schools

About the Author

Ken Romines has for more than 25 years been an educator and administrator. He has experience at all levels of education from preschool to university graduate studies. He has worked in both urban and suburban school systems and for 18 years directed a community reading clinic in San Francisco's Mission District. He earned his doctorate of education from the University of California at Berkeley in 1988. Currently, he is principal of a new elementary school in the San Francisco Unified School District and is on the faculty of Patten College in Oakland, California.

Excerpts from A Principal's Story
by Ken Romines

Miserable, dangerous

". . . Last year was one of the toughest years of my life. I was the new principal of Edison Elementary School, reportedly the worst public school in San Francisco. When I signed on for this two-year job, Edison's students had miserable, substandard achievement scores, the lowest in the district. . . . Just coming to school was dangerous. Violence was so commonplace, students expected to get hurt or to hurt others, and they said so. . . . Parents fought to keep their children out of Edison. Parents and teachers were openly hostile to each other. And teachers were hostile to teachers. Turnover was excessive ­­ 50% to 70% of the teachers assigned to Edison left every year. . . . Over all this hung the threat of reconstitution." (pp. 9-10)


"I can read"

"When children aren't succeeding academically, school seems increasingly worthless. As soon as our students began to have successes, primarily with the new reading and language arts program, they began to see themselves as real students. Many had to shed tough, know-it-all exteriors, take the risk of looking less than cool, trust that trying to learn was more valuable than avoiding learning. The pay-off came in self-esteem. As one 8-year-old told me proudly, 'I can read. I can read a whole book, and I can even read it to somebody.' " (p. 21)


And more. . .

"Few students came [to Edison] expecting to learn. For most students, school was like going to the mall, but not as much fun." (p. 42)

"I wasn't a hero for going into a dangerous neighborhood. I believe I was just acting like an educator trying to establish contact with a student's family, and also like a dad, who shares expectations and worries, love and dislikes, with other dads." (p.60)

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