Alton (Ill.). Board of Education. Special Committe.

Findings and recommendations of the survey of the Alton public schools : made during the school year 1917-1918 online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryAlton (Ill.). Board of Education. Special CommitteFindings and recommendations of the survey of the Alton public schools : made during the school year 1917-1918 → online text (page 1 of 11)
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Survey of the

Made During the

School Year 1917-1918.










To the Board of Education,
^ City of Alton, 111.

Gentlemen :

In compliance with the resolution adopted by your body
at the regular June meeting (1917), we, your Special Com-
mittee on School Survey, submit the following report :

We selected Mr. John W. Withers, Superintendent of
Instruction, St. Louis, Mo., to make the survey of the Alton
Public Schools through a corps of special assistants working
under his supervision. Every man engaged in making the
survey is a public school man now actually employed in public
school work. Their professional standing is unimpeachable.
Your committee feels, as does Dr. Withers, that men of this
employment are in closer touch and sympathy with the prob-
lems that confront a Board of Education and School Admin-
istrative Department of a city the size of Alton.

The findings and recommendations of these surveyors
are embodied in this report. Your committee's recommenda-
tions based upon the entire survey will be furnished each
member prior to the meeting of your body at which this re-
port is to be received.

Respectfully submitted,

E. B. SEITZ, Chairman,
Special Committee on School Survey.

April 22, 1918. *

1 U » |>

■J J -ftJBtfl •'! I."«>J V


=" THE

ST. lol;is



Office of


June 10, 1918.
Mr. E. B. Seitz

Chai^an, Specie, eo,„™ on Sehoo,
My dear Mr. Seitz : ' "'■

to survey the public school system orAlton '"" ^""'^ of Education

I have been guided solely by the dTsIS , "'" Purvey Commission

be of real value in helping [he Board of ..'""''"' ' '"^'' "'''' «»"«
jmprove the work of the Alton public Jh?""" '" ^'^^^^'hen and
"•short, to render a report Itwou'dh '' ^^^^ 'he purpose,

Whatever of adverse criticism there mav t T."'""'™ 'hroughou,
meant to be constructive and is marn , u '^^ "''""' '' 'herefore'
'o justify it. Along with the hieftte mt f™ *' ''''' '^^^ ^'-^'^
where defects were found, remedfes ,h,t ^"S«esting, in each case

avadable, there was also the desi ' to dlr'^'f "'^' ^"^ immediately
whtch could not insomeinstan esbeim f '"f''"''^«"P«'««dards
would serve to direct .hecour e^f p™g~h/^^^^^^^ 7^"-^ but which
I have carefully read th„ ' '"'"''""' ">""'■

an. convinced that so Z fstZT-fr^" ""'"'>" "^ 'he staff and
have been carefully seen d cltrl"; t"" '''"''' '''' f^"

and that the conclusions drawn «nH ' ^"'^ """'=«'>' interpreted

ease fully justified by the facTs ^^^'"■"endations made are fn each

Respectfully submitted,

John W. Witheks.



Gko. Platt Knox
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, St. Louis


As long as the Board of Education of the City of Alton is composed of
the present high type of public spirited citizens, the existing comfortable
working relations between the various departments of the Board and between
the Board and its officers doubtless will continue, but the Charter and the
Rules of the Board guarantee no such continuance.

The published Rules of the Board fall far short of the actual practice
of the Board as regards the conduct of the Board's business.

As is too frequently the case in American cities, the rules of the Board
of Education fail to distinguish between the several functions of the
Board, and between the sphere of activity of the Board and that of its officers.
The Board of Education should be an eminent group selected, or elected by
the people, to represent them in the control of the function of public educa-
tion. The Board should be a deliberative, not an executive body directly; It
should reflect truly all the various phases of opinion and desire found in the
people which it represents: it should, by investigation and consideration and
discussion, weigh the various proposals in view of the necessities and the best
public policy and so determine what are the wise and feasible lines of
progress; it should, through the advice of experts, study the possible channels
and means and methods by which the determined aims shall be worked out
and decide on the lines of action; it should leave to its officials, who must be
experts in their respective lines, the execution of the policies and plans
decided upon.

A further function of the Board is to safeguard the excellence of the
accommodations and equipment and work of the schools and the health and
well being of the pupils. To this end the Board should constantly and con-
sistently receive reports from its officers showing actual conditions on all the
points deserving of care and attention; it should note and emphasize the
elements of strength and weakness so reported and spread its judgment
adequately before the people; it should direct its proper officers to proceed
along certain lines to strengthen and improve conditions where needed and
to develop strength beyond the excellence already noted.

The Board of Education should serve as a prophet to the people.
America is learning today as never before, she realizes today as never any
other people in all history, how absolutely vital to a nation is the adequate
education of its citizens. In all respects as regards public education as the
great foundation of the perpetuity of our institutions, the Board of Education
has a peculiar and paramount duty to perform in pointing the way to a clear
understanding and a limitless devotion on the part of the people to their
supreme educational duty. The Board should never invade or usurp the
functions of its executive officers, it has bigger work to do.

The Board of Education of the City of Alton carries on its business
through ten standing committees consisting of from three to five members
each, appointed by the President of the Board. This arrangement entails
on the part of several individuals a membership on four different committees.
It is not within the function of this report to discuss the advisability of this
plan, the question under discussion is the relation of the activity of the
Board to the functions of its officers.

The work of these ten committees, as indicated by their titles, comprises
the usual scope of work of a Board of Education in the furtherance of its
business of running the public schools. These committees are: Finance,
Teachers, Text Books, Library and Apparatus, Janitors, Buildings and
Repairs, Supplies and Incidentals, High School, Rules and Regulations, and
Hygiene and Safety.

The officers of the Board are stated in the published rules (Sec. I, p. 6)
to be, "A President, Secretary, Treasurer and an executive officer who is the
Superintendent." The Rules in another section provide for the election by
the Board of a Superintendent of Buildings and define his duties. It is
presumable that this Superintendent of Buildings is also "an officer of the
Board," although it is not so stated. Other officers are also referred to in
other sections, — "the Truant Officer," "a Supervisor of Hygiene with as many
assistants, inspectors or nurses as may be determined from time to time."
(Sec. Ill, p. 34.) It is stated (Sec. VIII, p. 35) that "The work of the

r»ei,>^,r'Lrrjieiit of School Hygiene shall be conducted at all times under such
regulations as may be prescribed by the Board of Education, through the
proper committee," and in Sec. IX, p. 35, it is ordered that "The Superintendent
of Schools, principals, teachers, janitors, attendance officers and Supervisors
of Hygiene or School Nurses shall co-operate with the Department of School
Hygiene at all times." This section specifically directs that the Superintend-
ent of Schools and the Supervisor of Hygiene co-equally shall co-operate with
the Department of School Hygiene at all times, while this Department is
defined (Sec. I, p. 33) as " a division of work in the schools." It might be
expected, instead, that the rules would direct that the work of this Department
of School Hygiene and its Supervisor, assistants, inspectors and nurses shall
be under the responsible direction of the Superintendent of Schools. This,
lack of definition seems to lead to no friction at present but there is need
that the relations of the various officers of the Board be specified, with the
Superintendent of Schools as the chief responsible executive officer. Sec. I,
p. 9 states this broadly but seems to have been overlooked when other officers
and departments were added.

The several standing committees exercise not merely oversight and
discretionary powers, but are directed to perform extensive executive func-
tions which should be exercised only by responsible and trained experts.
No matter how devoted in public spirit, no matter how indefatigable in the
Board's service may be the Board members, they cannot be expected to have
the efficiency or to bear the responsibility of trained experts. While it is
not discernible in Alton it is widely the case the country over, that most of
the friction in school affairs, most of the low efficiency in actual teaching and
schoolroom work, rises directly from the mistake of giving into the hands
of untrained, however patriotic and estimable citizens, the executive handling
of the schools. The expert official should propose, the Board of Education
should dispose; the expert official should carry out what the Board of
Education should adopt; the expert official should be held responsible for
his recommendations, which should be unhampered by the personal feelings
or friendships of Board members, while the Board in its turn is responsible
to the people for the welfare of their public schools.

The Committee on Text Books and Course of Study has the serious
duty of investigating and recommending any necessary changes in text
books and course of study. This is an impossible task for the best private
citizen. It is the work and should be the responsibility of the expert official, —
the Superintendent of Schools, — the Board should receive his recommenda-
tions with the results of his study and pass upon them, favorably or otherwise.
No non-expert should be subjected to the rival claims and claimants in this
delicate school business.

The Committee on Teachers, composed of five members, must "investi-
gate the qualifications of applicants for positions as teacher. They shall pre-
pare annually and submit * * * a list of competent teachers * * *." The
present committee is in the habit of relying on the Superintendent of Schools
for this list, and wisely and considerately so, but the rules permit quite other
action. In this, as throughout the conduct of its business, the practice of the
present Board is quite in line with the latest and best school policy. This
practice should be guaranteed by the Rules and the responsibility placed
legally where it belongs, on the responsible recomlmendation of the executive,
an expert official, who is subject at all times and in all things to the judgment
of the Board.

The same unwise direction appears in the stated duty of the Committee
on Buildings and Repairs "to attend to the necessary repairs of all the build-
ings and grounds"; in the duty of the Committee on Library and Apparatus
"to make recommendations to the Board for the purchase of various books
and apparatus needed for the better ivorkin(j of the schools; in the duty of
the Committee on Supplies "to purchase and have placed when needed
necessary supplies", to make "during the summer months" "a list of supplies
needed in the public schools". The Committee on Janitors shall "recommend
suitable persons for employment as janitors of the various buildings", "shall
see that the janitors perform their various duties and discharge temporarily
* * * and appoint temporarily", a duty which should be laid to the
executive who can spend his whole time in the schools.

The above data are not exhaustive of the situation but serve to point
the recommendation that the respective officers of the Board be held legally
responsible for the conduct of their respective departments, including all
recommendations of teachers, janitors, supplies, repairs, texts, apparatus,
course of study and the general conduct of the physical and intellectual well
being and growth of the pupils.

As soon as the volume of business warrants, there should be another
officer of the Board created, — a Commissioner of Supplies, an officer under
bond, employed on all or part time, who shall conduct most economically
and efficiently the purchasing business of the Board.

The administration, as distinguished from the organization and the
supervision, has to do with the Cd-ccutivc function of the school system under
the form of organization provided, leading into the problem of supervision
as the pupil is reached in the teaching process.

Administration has to do with the relations of the official to the
members of his department in the efficient conduct of the work for which
he is responsible. This survey has to do only with the administration of the
Department of Instruction.

The Department of Instruction in the Alton school system comprises
a Superintendent of Schools, three subject Supervisors, fifteen principals of
respective schools, and the corps of teachers. The Truant Officer and the
officials in the Department of School Hygiene are not here included ag they
seem to be considered under the rules as separate and co-ordinating branches
of the service. The work of this Truant Officer is left to the consideration
of the survey report on attendance of pupils. The Department of Hygiene
was not specifically studied but every Indication points to efficient and
adequate service being rendered.

The classification of the schools, determination of the number of rooms
per school and of actual pupils per teacher are so largely dependent upon the
location and size of buildings, and these, in turn, upon the distribution of
school population, recently modified city and ward limits and school building
and finance, that we shall of necessity assume that the present classification,
size and location of schools is accepted.

For the most part the grade classification and assignment of pupils of
certain grades to certain schools seems a reasonable and satisfactory adjust-
ment of the educational needs to the opportunities afforded.

As soon as the City of Alton is in a position to modify and enlarge its
school accommodations by the erection of new buildings, the work should
be undertaken with a view to providing for the school children of this
community the latest and, best devices of educational classification.

Not alone new and better school buildings should be planned, but an
opportunity should be sought to place within the reach of the children the
superior educational opportunities found in new school units, such as Junior
High Schools, Manual and Household Arts Schools, Industrial, Commercial,
Technical Schools or courses, and similar recent educational administrative
schemes of accepted value.

We are, as a people, passing through a period of unparalleled strain,
turmoil and adjustment. What the end will be no man knows. But that the
whole educational policy of our nation will be profoundly affected is beyond
question; it remains for us who are engaged in public education, — Boards of
Education and their officers, — to make the very best educational adjustment
possible and to keep adequate pace with the development of public opinion.

Now is not the time to attempt to recommend just the form which

.school advance should take. Alton needs to apply itself to study of local and

national problems from its own standpoint, needs to realize deeply its own

necessities for educational enlargement and to be ready to embark upon a

solution of its problems at the earliest possible moment.

The schools as now organized seem well administered, the Superin-
tendent seems to be in the school rooms to a reasonable extent, being able
with the clerical help provided so to conduct the work of his office as to be
free- for school visitation. These two phases of the work of administration,
office duties and school visitation, and their relative demands upon time
and energy, always present to a superintendent one of his biggest problems.
To preserve an even and just balance between these two is to sail a safe course
between Scylla and Charybdis.

In making his choice, the Superintendent of the Alton Schools has
avoided both rocks while he has fortunately devoted the greater portion of
his time on the side of school visitation. This matter will be further com-
mented upon under the head of supervision.

The office of the Superintendent of Schools should provide adequate
and prompt attention to the needs and also the demands of the public. This
function seems to be fulfilled in Alton. Among other items, the Superin-
tendent gives his personal attention to cases of serious infraction of school

discipline and to the applications for working papers. It is worth a great
deal to the City of Alton to have the children leaving school receive the
personal care of the Superintendent in each individual case, for thus the
law is upheld and the best interests of the children of the community safe-

The office of the Superintendent should constitute a court of appeal
and a source of sympathy, justice and inspiration to all teachfers. No school
system can be healthy unless the members of the teaching corps find an open
door and a sure welcome in the Superintendent's office. Every such teacher
must leave his office feeling that she has had courteous sympathetic hearing,
real justice, and helpful advice, and so must bear with her a feeling that she
will come again and all the more easily next time. This function seems,
to be fulfilled in Alton.

The office of the Superintendent should secure a fair and permanent
record of the work of the system. As regards the children, a cumulative
record showing the individual pupil's attendance, attention and progress
should be an accomplished fact. This record should be in a form which
affords ready access and easy reading for reference purposes by the Superin-
tendent or other responsible officer or teacher. Such a record is, of course,
sacred and safe in the hands of the school authorities and must never be
exploited. Such record is not found immediately accessible in the Alton
office. Promotion lists of pupils are submitted for the Superintendent's

As regards teachers, the office of the Superintendent should afford a
permanent, careful, adequate record of the efficiency of each individual
teacher. This record should include items showing length of service, attend-
ance, punctuality, faithfulness in performance of routine duties, ability in
management of children and their right training for character building,
instruction and teaching skill, professional zeal. etc. Such a record should
be the basis for promotion or for dismissal and should be demanded by the
teachers as a reasonable safeguard of their own interests and a fair guide
to their efforts for professional improvement. No such record is had in the
Alton office.

The office of the Superintendent should gather vital statistics for the
schools covering data on enrollment, attendance, grade distribution, extra
promotion, non-promotion, retardation, tardiness, serious disciplinary cases,
etc., which are increasingly valuable in the art of good school keeping. Not
only should constant study be made of such data as a guide to wise adminis-
trative measures and for purposes of frank report to the public at large, but
such statistics afford the only basis for reliable reference in future years. A
monthly report is filed by each teacher in Alton showing some of these data
but the report is incomplete and it is not digested and assimilated sufficiently
to fulfill its fullest value. In short, the office of the Superintendent of the
Alton Schools is deficient in well chosen and adequate data on the work of
pupils and teachers and on vital school statistics.


Supervision has to do with the direction and control of the teacher in
her work, exercised by the administrative officers of the Board of Education. .
School supervision is an art, not reducible completely to scientific factors
without an appreciable remainder. Some of the essential qualities of school
supervision may, however, be noted. There must be real information based
upon immediate personal knowledge of actual school-room conditions. There
must be deep sympathy born of an intimate fellowship between teacher and
supervisor, based- upon personal acquaintance and a common professional
experience. There must be wise evaluation of the powers and limitations
of the children under observation, resting on a far-reaching knowledge of
the social, historical and economic facts of home environment and influences.
There must be strong professional sagacity on the part of the supervisor
derived from training, reading, observation and study.

The Superintendent and his supervisory assistants must be well
trained for their particular work; they must do wide reading; they must
be constantly well informed, by visits to other school systems and conventions
and other gatherings of their co-workers in the profession; they must be
home born or else careful and extensive students of local conditions and
history; they must have been teachers themselves; they must be friends with
the teachers, "having a fellowship in (pedadogical) suffering"; they must

liave an almost intuitive tact and alertness in getting an instant grasp on
school-room conditions unmodified by the entrance of the Supervisor; they
must be welcome in the school room.

The Superintendent and his supervisory assistants in Alton bear this
searching test of efficiency to a degree which is commendatory and beyond
the average. They have been "home grown," or have been long enough
resident to be thoroughly conversant with local civic conditions: they know
the children and know the homos from whence they come. They have been
long enough in the school system to know the teachers and to be known
by them: they seem to be welcome in the school room, appreciated by
teachers and gladly accepted by children. Their degree of .professional
training and of general and special preparation will be considered by other
surveyors. The Superintendent is a regular attendant at the great professional
gatherings of superintendents; I doubt if the Supervisors visit other systems
frequently and widely enough. The Board of Education could well afford
and should periodically grant Supervisors extended opportunity for visitation
and study in other systems.

In a school system the size of Alton the Superintendent of Instruction is
able to keep in close touch with conditions in his schools. In many cities
a "supervising principal" has assigned to him as many teachers as are com-
prised in the entire corps in Alton. The actual number of school rooms is
not an unreasonable charge upon the oversight of its Superintendent. The
considerable distances to be traversed in reaching the schools, many of
which contain only a few rooms, renders the supervisory work of the
Superintendent more difficult than the number of teachers to be supervised
would alone indicate.

By his personal visits to school rooms and by the professional meetings
with his corps of teachers as directed by the Rules, the Superintendent is
doubtless able to affect the work of the school rooms to a reasonable degree.
No Superintendent of Schools is ever satisfied in his effort to improve the
work in his school rooms, every superintendent must rely in the main on
the professional scholarship and zeal of his teachers for the improvement
of their work under his suggestion. The Superintendent of Schools in Alton
is no exception.

As regards supervision of teachers by principals the best educational
practice provides the services of an accomplished principal for every school
of five or more rooms. Good school keeping is concerned primarily and
vitally with the welfare of the pupils. They are entitled to all of their
teachers' time during school hours, — in class room, during filing, on the
playground. No teacher should be taken from the actual teaching of her
pupils by any parents, or other visitors desiring consultation, or by require-

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Online LibraryAlton (Ill.). Board of Education. Special CommitteFindings and recommendations of the survey of the Alton public schools : made during the school year 1917-1918 → online text (page 1 of 11)