Victory in Our Schools is an explanation of the simple but effective plan John Stanford used to create change in the Seattle public school system. Like most large public school systems, Seattle's was facing rapid decline in 1995. A decision was made to hire a new superintendent John Stanford, not another highly credentialed educator but a retired Army major general with the foresight to see the district had five thousand educators dedicated to their profession and only needed a leader. To Stanford, leading meant inspiring the community act on the simple directive to reach and teach all children. Stanford admits he knew nothing about education, and details spending months simply asking questions, trying to determine where help was needed, where procedures could be streamlined, why Seattle's students were being underserved by so many qualified and dedicated folks. The results of his questioning and the organization of this book are the ten philosophical shifts he believed were necessary before the results everyone wanted could begin.
The ideas Stanford helped put in motion are not new to educators: focus on the students rather than the adults, involve the whole community in the process, establish exit standards, implement strict consequences when standards are not met, and make everyone accountable for the results. What is new is how Stanford followed through once the ideas were on paper. From the top down, everyone was held accountable for student progress. Principals could no longer hide behind office doors; district administrators had to come out into the schools; businesses were expected to provide not only funding but also tutors; parents were told and told again how they must help. And the standard by which the community would be judged was simple: student achievement. Three years later, scores had risen while drop-out rates and violence had declined. Each chapter is full of examples of how beliefs were made into reality. If you want effective volunteer tutors, give them coaching cards to use with the students. If you want parents to actively participate in improving students' skills, teach them how.
It is also the story of how a man who failed sixth grade and looked back on it as the beginning of his success; it is about how he inspired those around him to act on what all educators know to be sound practices. The numerous quotes by those involved, from district administrators to janitors, from community leaders to the parents of students, all attest to the respect and honor in which the community held a man who simply wanted everyone to do their best so that every child could succeed.
Jamie Whitfield taught in public schools for 17 years.