When a superintendent has integrity and community support, he can stand up to the Governor, to Washington, and to the winds of fashion.

That’s Michael McGill, the superintendent of the Scarsdale, New York, public schools.

Scarsdale is one of the most affluent communities in the nation. But there are plenty of other superintendents in affluent communities who are going along with absurd mandates.

McGill is not going along. He has spoken out eloquently against high stakes testing. Imagine a superintendent who write a “declaration of intellectual independence.”

He has spoken out against the state’s half-baked evaluation plan for teachers.

When I visited Scarsdale schools a year ago, Mr. McGill gave a speech to the faculty denouncing federal policies that undermined the pedagogical freedom of his teachers.

Michael McGill is a hero superintendent.

A  reader of this blog wrote thiis letter of support:

Dr. Michael McGill, Superintendent of Scarsdale Schools is a hero superintendent guiding  a hero school district with a long history of thoughtful school policy and innovation, sometimes in the face of powerful and regressive political forces (including successful resistance to attempts to limit access in the schools to information and ideas by advocates for McCarthyism in the 1950s).  Continuing that long tradition, Mr. McGill is a vocal opponent of high stakes testing and tying teacher evaluation to tests.

But, he’s not only a hero because of what he opposes; he’s a hero because of what he advocates. Under McGill’s leadership, Scarsdale is providing a thoughtful road map for school improvement that others might well emulate.  He consults with this teachers and community.  Programs and changes are considered thoughtfully and evaluated for their merit before being launched.  His expertise and thoughtful approach to the training and retaining of high quality teachers, his vision for the authentic education of children and his leadership style in the building of his community make him the kind of superintendent any school district would hope to have.

Admittedly, he’s in a district that supports education over measurement. In that way, Scarsdale is already at odds with the testing über alles approach.  In 2001, his parents stood up to the obsessive testing culture created by NCLB and refused to allow their children to take the test.  In 2005, in concert with his faculty, and after two years of researching the value and consequences of the changes under consideration, McGill led the Scarsdale community as it became the first high school in America to drop out of the AP program.  Some might question that policy. Doesn’t that mean that Scarsdale is foregoing a challenging curriculum?  No, it doesn’t. It means the exact opposite.  As he wrote in an article for the AASA, McGill realized that the imperative of test preparation determined both what and often how teachers taught. Although AP courses undeniably met a high standard, teachers wanted their pupils’ experience to be even better and not a cynical process of strategizing to amass the right number of points. Instead of continuing to pursue a test of excellence, he decided to build a course of excellence.  He brought in experts to work with his faculty to build advanced topics that would be superior to the AP and no longer beholden to the AP exams.  Students were still free to take AP exams, but he understood what those in the forefront of the reform movement do not, that learning is compromised when driven by a high stakes testing culture. Scarsdale set their standard higher than the state.

Under the leadership of Dr. McGill, Scarsdale continues a long tradition of educational excellence and innovation.  He surrounds himself with thoughtful, experienced educators and a  School Board dedicated to building better learning environments.  who work with him to continues to innovate and point the way for other school systems that want to set their sights higher as well.  This year, Scarsdale opened its Center for Innovation, the first innovation center to be hosted and supported by a K-12 school district… [b]ased on successful models of university and corporate technology R&D programs, such as the MIT Media Lab and Apple Advanced Technology Group, the Center… provide[s] opportunities for Scarsdale to continue its leadership role in demonstrating innovative instructional practices. The Center plans to partner with concerned others, fostering conversation and collaboration with teachers, students, community members, university researchers, corporate and university R&D departments and other school districts.

Scarsdale provides a principled and meaningful response to the misguided policies of the non-educator driven reform movement.   They are blazing a trail for public educators: a sustainable, well considered approach to practice and innovative, built on experience, expertise and an understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead in public education.  What better reason for excitement? Informed reform you can believe in.