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Abstract

School superintendent Gerry House arrives in Memphis in 1992 with an aggressive, reform agenda. Convinced that the predominantly African- American system had focused too heavily on discipline at the expense of learning, House conceives a "school improvement" plan based in high expectations for all students, improved instruction, and decentralized school governance. Students, in the House vision, would be intellectually engaged and freer toquestion authority. This new school agenda confronts, however, a rising tide of violence in the city''s schools-and, significantly, a national movement, embraced formally by the Memphis board of education, to signal "zero tolerance" for assaults on teachers. Memphis teachers, and their union, interpret zero tolerance to mean that violent and even abusive students (e.g. students who curse teachers in anger) should be removed forthwith from classes. House, however, not only fears the atmosphere such an iron hand might generate but knows that so- called alternative school facilities for students removed from standard classes are extremely limited, and that Memphis residents and business leaders do not want potentially violent adolescents simply on the streets. This leadership case provides a window into the efforts of Superintendent House to assert and implement her agenda within this complex labor relations context. Supported by the Danforth Foundation, Forum for the American School Superintendent.

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Abstract

School superintendent Gerry House arrives in Memphis in 1992 with an aggressive, reform agenda. Convinced that the predominantly African- American system had focused too heavily on discipline at the expense of learning, House conceives a "school improvement" plan based in high expectations for all students, improved instruction, and decentralized school governance. Students, in the House vision, would be intellectually engaged and freer toquestion authority. This new school agenda confronts, however, a rising tide of violence in the city''s schools-and, significantly, a national movement, embraced formally by the Memphis board of education, to signal "zero tolerance" for assaults on teachers. Memphis teachers, and their union, interpret zero tolerance to mean that violent and even abusive students (e.g. students who curse teachers in anger) should be removed forthwith from classes. House, however, not only fears the atmosphere such an iron hand might generate but knows that so- called alternative school facilities for students removed from standard classes are extremely limited, and that Memphis residents and business leaders do not want potentially violent adolescents simply on the streets. This leadership case provides a window into the efforts of Superintendent House to assert and implement her agenda within this complex labor relations context. Supported by the Danforth Foundation, Forum for the American School Superintendent.

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