You might imagine that a school will always put kids first. Certainly we have seen life and death situations like Sandy Hook where teachers sacrificed their own lives for their students. It's easy to readily see kids' needs in a horrible crisis such as this, and it never surprises me to see educators willing to sacrifice their own lives when faced with unimaginable violence. However, it is not so easy to see kids' needs when a crisis is far in the future. It takes a special leader to truly see how everyday decisions like scheduling, curriculum development and discipline will impact individual children as they move toward adulthood.
Unfortunately, there are many school leaders who do not think of children's needs when they make decisions. This is especially true in school districts where a culture of fear, intimidation and punishment has been created by a board of education populated by those who seek power above all else. You see in many places, particularly where unemployment is high and the school district may be the largest employer, someone sitting on a board of education has immense power. A board member can get you a job and help you get promoted. A board member can ensure you get particular teaching assignments. If you are a math teacher, for example, this could translate into a cushy gig teaching Calculus to small classes of 12 or so highly motivated seniors instead of Algebra classes of 35 unmotivated freshmen. A board member can get you some extracurricular work like coaching. This could make the difference between living paycheck to paycheck, and becoming a little more financially comfortable. While there are certainly incredibly wonderful, altruistic people who serve on school boards in order to serve their communities, there are also some who are really only interested in amassing power and moving up the political ladder.
When terrible things happen in schools, we are usually quick to blame those closest to incidents. It is very easy to make one or two heads roll than to look at the context in which the incidents occur. Are children, parents and employees respected in this district? Are decisions made based on the best interests of the students, or is the happiness of the adults the driving force? Do decision-makers consider what is right, ahead of what is politically advantageous? School districts in which politics, jobs and happiness for adults trump the education and well-being of its students, will have a culture that encourages the mistreatment of children. The only way to change this is for the community to rise up and insist upon Righteous Leadership. Brave Leadership - that focuses on what should be the sole mission of schools: to educate children. We will have the schools we demand.