What is the Role of Bank Street in a New Era?

November 18, 2008 at 1:15 pm 1 comment

posted by Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool

Jim Clay '88

Jim Clay '88

Over the more than 20 year period of my association with Bank Street College, I have seen the College swing back and forth, depending upon the leadership, between being an institution largely focused on the educational needs of New York, and specifically New York City public education (the Principals Institute being one example), and providing programs that attract students from all over the country (for example, Leadership in Early Childhood Education).  Let me state my bias right away – since I reside in Washington DC and not NYC, I have an interest in Bank Street focusing on the nation and not just the City.

At the BSCAA awards ceremony on October 30, awardee Barbara Ferguson Kamara ’81 challenged Bank Street College to provide more leadership in education on a national level.  The opportunity is certainly present with a new president-elect of the United States and a new president of the college.  What would that leadership look like?

So far all I have heard from Bank Streeters is reactive.  The name of Linda Darling-Hammond (one of the leaders of Obama’s education transition team) has been discussed as a possible Secretary of Education, and she’s a “Friend of Bank Street” (whatever that might mean).

NYC Schools’ Chancellor Joel Klein’s name has also been floated, and there apparently is a petition among Bank Streeters to President-Elect Obama against such an appointment.  Not being a New Yorker, I don’t pretend to understand the issues, except that one of Mr. Klein’s protégées (Michelle Rhee) is the chancellor of DC Public Schools, where I live.  (Here’s an article from The Atlantic magazine about Rhee: www.theatlantic.com/doc/200811/michelle-rhee). Our schools here in DC are certainly much different historically from NYC schools, but she is big on change, which is necessary.  At the same time, she apparently bases almost all her decisions upon test scores.

But what I’d really like to know is what people feel about how the Bank Street community can provide leadership at this time – not just feeling cozy about a possible appointee or lobbying against another one. We, the alumni, are the folks out there doing the work. We are the ones to provide the leadership. Surely we have a perspective on what is needed. Should we just be promoting our brand or approach to education – constructivist, progressive, developmentally interactive?  Should we be encouraging the president-elect and Congress to fund the unfunded mandates? – which is largely how I interpret Obama’s Early Childhood Platform (www.barackobama.com/pdf/issues/PreK-12EducationFactSheet.pdf). Should we be helping to create new policies and programs? How can Bank Street not only be heard as part of the discussion but also be a part of the solution? How can Bank Street lead?

Jim Clay has been the director of School for Friends, a Quaker preschool in downtown Washington DC, since 1984. He regularly leads workshops on family diversity, administration, and staff development at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).  Jim is a member of BSCAA’s Advisory Board.

Please join the conversation by posting your comment below.

Entry filed under: dialogue, leadership, policy, politics.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Beth Norford  |  November 18, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Jim-
    I applaud your call to Bank Street to actively seek a role in national educational policymaking. And I would like to pose a further question. What should/could our role be internationally? Obviously, Bank Street is not poised for direct influence on government mandates in other countries. But as someone who works internationally, I know how desperately educators are searching for pedagogy that makes sense, how far even a little input can go AND (far from trivial in importance) the benefit that our own alumni/faculty can gain from exposure to international experience. I know that we have a role to play in the global village.
    Beth

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