6 questions for the school principal: Sharon Lopez ’06

Sharon LopezSharon M. López ’06 is principal of Coconut Grove Elementary School in Miami. As the excitement of fresh paper and new pencils filled classrooms around the country – along with all the promise that the start of a new school year holds – Lopez discussed some of the trending issues in K-12 education today.

What are the biggest challenges educators face?

Teachers face many challenges, including teaching students at different ability levels in the same classroom, effectively implementing the curriculum mandates of their respective states’ department of education and helping students manage their own individual challenges – which affect performance at school – as a result of their social and economic conditions at home.

Have teachers’ jobs gotten progressively harder or easier? 

The job of a teacher has gotten harder over the years. The increased emphasis on progress monitoring and accountability has created a more intense teaching environment. In addition, educators have to deal with stakeholders’ increased involvement in decisions regarding classroom and school-based improvements. The concept of teacher autonomy is outdated.

How do you feel about teacher merit pay?

Basing teachers’ raises on student performance only intensifies teacher anxiety. While money matters to teachers, working conditions are more important. Teachers want to work in supportive environments where they have latitude for creativity and where colleagues collaborate, rather than compete, with one another. There are better ways to improve teacher effectiveness, including class size reduction, better salaries and teacher training.

Do you believe that we have put too much emphasis on standardized testing?

No. Standardized tests measure student knowledge. Teaching a curriculum aligned to state standards and using test data as feedback to restructure and reteach lessons increases the acquisition of knowledge. Standardized tests focus on important basic skills that all students need to master including reading comprehension, mathematics, science and writing.

How can parents best help their students succeed in school?

Be involved in your children’s education from the first day of pre-kindergarten until graduation from high school. Parents can help children succeed by reading with them, assisting with homework assignments and talking with their children’s teachers.

Should parents purchase electronic devices and online programs to promote learning?

Human interaction may have just as powerful effect on learning as technology. Whether it is through the use of electronic learning aids or computer programs or sitting down together and reading a book, parents should have a conversation with their child to discuss what they are learning.   

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