Douglas Wallack ’16, Magnet Schools of America

Doug-WallackI arrived at the Magnet Schools of America in Washington, D.C. on a Thursday morning.  To be clear, I wasn’t actually at a school for the duration of my Princeternship, but at the office of MSA’s governing body.  From the moment I got there, my alum-host Crystal Moore ’96 was busy at work, tirelessly juggling a huge variety of tasks ranging from data systems improvement to fundraising to organizing MSA’s annual conference in Tulsa.  When I wasn’t shadowing Ms. Moore on the job, much of my work dealt with the conference; I helped collect the information of school district superintendents and other guests who would be invited.

When there was a free minute, Ms. Moore explained to me some of MSA’s governing principles.  I was already familiar with the idea that magnet schools, by definition, have specially focused curricula – think performing arts high schools, or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) schools.  It seems to me like an interesting and promising solution for American public education, which – if you believe the reports – has stagnated to only middling status internationally.  What I didn’t know about before was MSA’s commitment to diversity and desegregation.  As I understood it, desegregation in schools was pretty much a bridge that the American public had crossed quite some time ago now (I’d figured that it was included as an important magnet school principle as a nod to the organization’s own history or something).  In fact, there is still a lot of de facto segregation in public school systems today, and MSA is trying to fight that.  Everything I read these days contends that education is one of the nation’s most pressing issues, so it was very cool to hear one take on it in person from the field.

For the morning of the second day, I went with Ms. Moore to a talk on “Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement” (basically, the effects of having a city’s mayor head its own school districts) Wallack 1at the Center for American Progress, which is a think tank in Washington.  The talk was something between a debate and a lecture, and apart from serving as a forum for an interesting topic, it was also a meeting place for many of the D.C. leaders, lobbyists, and experts in education.  One thing that Ms. Moore and I talked about afterward was a point brought up by one of the speakers – Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans.  He mentioned several times the importance of having educators run schools.  I could see the wisdom in this, to a certain extent: ownership in the process means that in their roles as educators, the teachers will be held accountable to a higher standard.  But what I didn’t understand was whether Mr. Kingsland actually meant that teachers themselves should be administrators.  While I get the spirit of self-sufficiency and self-regulation, I don’t think this makes sense.  I’ve had plenty of brilliant teachers who could tell me all about analyzing poetry, the French Revolution, or partial derivatives, but wouldn’t make great administrators.  So Ms. Moore and I talked about that for a while and how it is important for education policy to have the big picture ideas, but also pay meticulous attention to the finer details like this.

I’d like to thank Ms. Moore and the rest of the staff at MSA for letting me stick around with them for a couple days.  It was a very cool way for me to see the day-to-day workings of a field of such crucial importance.