Vietnam War Preempts Plans, Opens Door to Education Reform

Lonnie Palmer
Lonnie Palmer
Nov. 20, 2011 - PRLog -- Albany, NY – In 1970, Lonnie Palmer graduated from Union College in Schenectady, NY, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics and planned to continue on to a Ph.D. program but was interrupted by a notice from the U.S. Government –  a draft notice. Knowing his low  number would preempt plans to continue his education, Palmer took a temporary position teaching high school science -- and a reluctant education reformer was born.

Within a year Palmer was drafted during the Vietnam War and spent two years as a Science Research Assistant calibrating radiation detection devices in the physics, health and safety office at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland.

But the time Palmer spent teaching – the students he met – prompted him to take a position teaching at Spackenkill High School in 1973 when he was discharged from the US Army two years later. Over the course of seven years at Spackenkill, he taught physics, AP Physics, chemistry, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and AP calculus. In 1980, he left to become principal of Averill Park High School.

During his time at Averill Park, Palmer:

•   Increased the number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses taught from two to seven and increased the number of students taking the AP exams more than 400 percent.
•   Doubled the number of students taking and passing Regents exams.
•   Implemented an alternative high school program that reduced drop outs by 75 percent.
•   Conducted reform that resulted in The Business Review naming Averill Park the Capital Region’s most cost effective high performing high school.

In 1993, Palmer became Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education in the City School District of New Rochelle, NY. An urban environment with a diverse population, New Rochelle was hot bed of reform. Using a Mellon Foundation Grant for educational innovation, Palmer implemented New York State Education Department approved variances on Regents exams that allowed teachers to substitute portions of 17 different exams with rubric-based research projects. One example:  20 percent of the Biology Regents Exam was a research project students completed with the aid of medical doctors from the Southern Westchester Medical Center.

In 1997, Albany City School District recruited Palmer to take over a district that had been run by the Albany political machine for decades. Palmer was hired by a majority reform board to move away from decades of patronage, nepotism and cronyism and move to a results-based school district.

While in Albany, Palmer:

•   Passed a referendum to renovate 11 school buildings and rebuild four.
•   Established and restructured five different alternative programs: a high school with individualized academics, a night school to help students complete their high school diplomas, an elementary program for students struggling with emotional problems that interfered with their education, and day and evening adult education GED and vocational programs.
•   Implemented a teaching assistant program that served as a training program for urban teachers.

In 2003 following his tenure in Albany, Palmer started a consulting business called AdvisorySolutions that analyzed and compared school district performance data with similar districts and established benchmarks for effective school spending and academic performance. It wasn’t long before he heard from another urban school district.

Troy School District, in Troy, NY, was in dire straits and needed a leader to turn things around. Palmer was hired as an interim superintendent and in two short years he:

•   Reorganized the administrative team with 17 new hires and 5 reassignments.
•   Improved academic and disciplinary performance.
•   Established a system for tracking data.
•   Produced a positive fund balance.
•   Significantly increased a crippling Moody’s Bond Rating.
•   Increased the graduation rate 27 percentage points from 57 percent to 84 percent.

The result: in two years the high school was removed from Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI) list.

While the Vietnam War put his formal education on hold, Palmer eventually obtained his Master’s in Physics Education and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration from the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Education issues: math and science test scores, the achievement gap, after-school programs, teacher quality, urban schools, higher student achievement, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Race to the Top, education and the economy, education reform, early childhood education, workforce development, STEM education, school funding, school budgets, school boards, school data, charter schools, special education, high stakes testing, English language learners (ELL), interdisciplinary learning, reading scores, math scores, teacher training, alternative programs, school construction, educational and financial planning, union contract negotiations, school mergers, teacher evaluation systems, assessments, schools and legal issues.

Contact:  Sheila Carmody
(518) 366-6148
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Tags:Achievement Gap, Teacher Evaluations, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, Education Reform
Location:New York - United States
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