Thu, Jul 31, 2014 ●
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Superintendent's Notebook: Let's talk about books

Opinion

Superintendent's Notebook: Let's talk about books

I love to read. Books have introduced me to faraway places and times. They’ve helped me make sense of current events and my own life. They’ve taught me, inspired me and entertained me.

My ability to read played a crucial role in my journey from the public housing project where I grew up to leadership positions in some of the country’s largest school systems.

That’s why I care so much about children in the Portland Public Schools gaining a strong foundation in literacy. Their ability to read, analyze and find meaning in texts will open many doors. In the months ahead, I will work with our district’s teachers to encourage students to read as much and as widely as possible.

I want to share with you some of the books that have shaped my thinking about education. I’ve devoted a page of my blog to book recommendations, with a brief description of each one.

One of my first recommendations is “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us,” by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead Books, 2009).

The author says providing external rewards and punishments may spur people to work harder in the short run, but often backfires in the long-term. Pink cites the example of paying a child for good grades. While the child may make more effort for a brief period, he or she comes to expect external rewards for academic achievement. The child may demand higher payments or try to cut corners to get the reward.

By contrast, people who are self-motivated tend to be more flexible and creative in solving problems. Those skills are needed in the 21st century workplace. Pink’s ideas for how to encourage intrinsic motivation apply to education as well as the business world.

I also recommend “Beyond the Bake Sale,” by Jean C. Joachim (2003, St. Martin’s Press). This short and easy-to-read book describes how parents at a public school in New York City raise the astounding sum of $200,000 per year to support the school library, teacher projects, art and more.

If your local school is searching for new fundraising ideas, this book can help. It gives detailed instructions for organizing more than 20 types of school fundraisers, including Family Photo Day, a Halloween Harvest Festival and a Handyman Day when children do chores for donations to the school.

The author provides step-by-step instructions for each fundraiser, a timeline, helpful hints and an estimate for how much money can be raised. While the practical advice is invaluable, my favorite part of the book is its can-do attitude.

More than 20 years ago, parents decided to make a difference at P.S. 87, an elementary school in Manhattan’s Upper West Side with a shrinking enrollment in what was considered a marginal neighborhood.

The parent association began producing a weekly newsletter, planning events to welcome new families and raising funds for school needs such as a computer lab, science enrichment, a guidance counselor, sports equipment and a copier. As word spread throughout the city, the school’s enrollment surged.

The parents at P.S. 87 accomplished something far more important than raising money.

By working together, they strengthened the sense of community at their school. Children saw that parents, teachers, administrators and other staff members were working together on their behalf. Local businesses supported those efforts. Children got the message that the whole community wanted to provide them with an excellent education.

In the coming months, I will suggest additional books on my blog. I hope you’ll check them out. I’d love to hear your reactions and also your book recommendations.