Brumskill is a
frequent visitor to schools, not only because he once aspired to
be a teacher but also because he considers it an important part
of his role as a school board member. Among the basic
requirements to hold that position, he said, "is first to be
interested in the welfare of children and a major area of their
welfare is education."
He added that if
more people were committed to helping children "live life to the
fullest ... we would have less problems."
At the start of
the final year of his first five-year term on the Brandywine
board, Brumskill, 71, was elected by his colleagues to be
its president. He previously had served a year as vice
president. He intends to run for
the board next May. Board membership is an unpaid volunteer
activity but a time-consuming one which puts incumbents into
public view in a not always favorable light.
likely to soon find himself in that position.
In February or
March, 2008, the Brandywine board is expected to vote to close
one or more schools. He has no illusions that will not bring out
strong emotions among district residents. "People have a feeling
'that's my school you're closing'. They have a sense that
'you're taking my school from me'," he said.
should have been done in
2005 after a committee similar to the one that is now attempting
to come up with a plan to eliminate at least half of what the
administration has identified as excess capacity recommended
closings. At that time, a public outcry forced a compromise by
which the board agreed to close the buildings housing the
district's central office and the Bush Early Learning Center in
Radnor Green and Talleyville, respectively, but not close
Brandywood Elementary nor Hanby Middle Schools in Brandywood and
Those two schools
are among the five presented to the current committee as viable
closure candidates. Buildings renovated since 1999 and those
either being renovated or planned to come next in the renovation
schedule are deemed ineligible. Neither of the approved building
closures has taken place.
for the compromise as did the other six board members. He said
he did so because he realized it had majority support and he did
not want the board to be presented as divided on the issue.
Sometimes it is better to subordinate your wishes to those of
the majority, he said.
This time around,
however, he expects the result to be different. There surely
will be pressure again, he said, but "when a job needs to be
done you do it." With district enrollment declining and likely
to continue doing so into the next decade, closure is
necessary if the board and the district administration are going
to be responsible "in how we're managing your (taxpayers')
money," he said.
Still, the board has to listen to the community,
he added. Having the study committee recommend a plan will "help us make the right
decision." That, he explained, goes beyond merely selecting one
or more buildings to include changing the four-tier grade
configuration and possibly "closing a portion of a building" by
to the future of Brandywine district is improving the quality of
the education it provides above its recognized high level. To that end, "the attitude of
the person in front of the classroom is what makes the
difference," he said.
Brumskill said he
regards the majority of teachers to be good teachers, but that he
would like to see a stronger commitment by some to the idea of inclusionary instruction. There are still several teachers --
including young ones -- who have different attitudes toward
teaching 'children of color' and those with special needs. "They
are not ready for the differences," he said.
Jim Scanlon, who was hired just a year ago, is moving in the
right direction, Brumskill said, but more has to be done. The
district has instituted an 'equity' program to improve racial
and cultural sensitivity of the staff, but so far participation
has been voluntary and Brumskill said that may not be enough.
His own views are
somewhat at odds with supporters of racially- and economically-integrated public education.
"I make it no secret that I would rather have a Wilmington
district" even though that would result in racially identifiable
schools, he said. A city district would have to be provided with
necessary financial and other resources to be able to measure up
to acceptable standards, he added.
Of the 1978
federal court decision which consolidated the former Wilmington
Public Schools with suburban districts, Brumskill said flatly,
"It didn't work."
go to school in their neighborhood," he said, explaining that
the Harlan school that he found in the north Wilmington
neighborhood where he lives when he moved from Philadelphia in
1971 would be a good model of what a neighborhood school should
team-teaching even back then," students were grouped
academically according to ability but not separated in
schoolwide activities, and teachers were required to visit the
families of new students including every first-grader, he
recalls. "It was a good example of what public schools can do,
much like charter schools," he said.
He added that he
does not personally favor charter schools, but feels some of
their techniques and approaches are adaptable to conventional
the impression of having 'teacher instincts'. In fact, he
started to become one, enrolling in Temple University in 1954
with an early-childhood education major. He transferred,
however, to Philadelphia College of Art & Design and went on to
a career in retailing and arts management.
He said that as a
board member and its president his role is not to micro-manage
but to set policy and rely on the superintendent to run the
district. He said is is very much impressed with and supportive
particularly impressed early-on, Brumskill said, when Scanlon
told the district staff -- both teachers and support staff --
that he did not come which an array of new programs to replace
what was being done in the district.
"Sometimes a new
broom sweeps too clean. It sweeps out the good things. Jim
(Scanlon) didn't do that," Brumskill said. "His attitude has
been to keep what works and move carefully to replace what
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