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The quiet heroes

Michael Winerip's recent New York Times piece on public education "reformers" whose own experiences were in private schools created a considerable stir in education circles. But this Winerip piece is the one that brought tears to my eyes. It's about Fern Creek Elementary School in Orlando, where 20 percent of the children live in homeless shelters.

The school is one of thousands of U.S. public schools succeeding against great odds. According to Winerip, Principal Patrick Galatowitsch credits:

"Class size. Florida voters have twice approved mandatory class-size limits, despite strong opposition from one of the most prominent members of the so-called school-reform movement, former Gov. Jeb Bush. The three Collins girls' classes have 18 students each.

"Talented, experienced teachers. Brianna's teacher, Rebecca Farmer, is a 14-year veteran. Shannon Preshong, who teaches Tamara, has 19 years of experience, and Ms. Schreffler has spent 30 years in the classroom.

"Firm yet caring discipline. Even before students bound off that rollicking school bus, Shanita Highland, the dean of students, bounds on. There is immediate silence. "You're supposed to have your shirt tucked in," whispered Justin Hernandez, a fifth grader who quickly stuffed his into his pants. "No one likes getting on Mrs. Highland's bad side — she's nice, but she's strict."

Note that two of these factors are absent from education reformers' playbooks. Class size doesn't matter, they insist. Schools need young, enthusiastic teachers. (Read: Inexperienced and at the lowest end of the pay scale).

This is the National PTA's Teacher Appreciation Week. I suspect that a teacher you know needs an extra dose of appreciation this year. Call or write to say thanks.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at