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Breaking the Barriers of Isolation

Dr. Eddy BayardellePublic school superintendents may be the most isolated of school administrators, largely without an informal network of colleagues with whom to raise and resolve common problems. That's an opinion shared by any number of educators, including Dr. Eddy Bayardelle, a former school superintendent in New York City and Long Island.

"When faced early on with unfamiliar issues," noted Dr. Bayardelle, now director of Global Philanthropy and Community Relations at Merrill Lynch & Co., "newly installed superintendents don't have access to their counterparts in other systems familiar with day- to-day challenges of public school leadership.

"Most people," Dr. Bayardelle added, "are unaware of the issues that fill the every day agendas of school superintendents "transportation arrangements, contract and labor negotiations, community school boards and parents, political questions, lobbying activities, personnel concerns, reform initiatives. The list goes on and on. Wouldn't it be nice to have colleagues who can give you immediate feedback to problems that need immediate decisions?"

Advice and Counsel from Colleagues

Against that background, Merrill Lynch selected Teachers College to set up a network that allows superintendents to tap into the experiences of others in similar positions of leadership under non-threatening circumstances. Under the auspices of its Foundation, Merrill Lynch gave a $250,000 grant in support of the $140 million Campaign for Teachers College to develop a Superintendents Institute. A groundbreaking leadership development program, the Institute's objective is "to create a national knowledge network for superintendents to share proven techniques for improving education."

In funding the Superintendents Institute, Merrill Lynch identified Teachers College as a partner with an innovative role in reforming and restructuring public education, particularly in urban centers. As a player in this process, Merrill Lynch also is represented by Jeffrey Peek, executive vice president of Merrill Lynch and a Teachers College trustee, who personally pledged $400,000 for a scholarship endowment in connection with the College's fundraising campaign.

The Superintendents Institute

The Teachers College Superintendents Institute is being led by Thomas Sobol, Christian A. Johnson Professor of Outstanding Professional Practice, a former Superintendent of the Scarsdale (NY) School District for 16 years and then Commissioner of Education for New York State for eight years.

Merrill Lynch's Dr. Bayardelle commented that the Institute "is really about relationships, networking and increasing the knowledge base of school superintendents by sharing information, testing ideas and facilitating rapid feedback on practical decisions shorn of any value judgments. We want to promote the ability of a superintendent, constantly under a great deal of pressure, to make the decisions that lead to learning experiences in the best interests of public school children."

A key mission of the Superintendents Institute is to foster interactive communication and personal interaction among and between front-line superintendents based on such initiatives as: Web-based Internet connections; translating research into practice; distance learning techniques; collaborative arrangements; and regional in-person seminars.

In making the $250,000 grant, Merrill Lynch draws on a long tradition of funding educational enterprises. It also counts on its own people whose volunteer commitments bring a human dimension to the funding process.

In one Initiative, The Scholarship-Builder Program, Merrill Lynch partnered with the National Urban League 12 years ago to provide 250 first-grade students in 10 major cities with the academic enhancement and tutoring, parental involvement, cultural enrichment and mentoring to make it through high school. Twelve years later, more than 90 percent graduated and many of those are entering college with full scholarship support from Merrill Lynch. Indeed, over that 12-year period, Merrill Lynch employees across the country served as mentors to participating students from the start to finish of the program.

According to Dr. Bayardelle, "Merrill Lynch's active role in philanthropy and personal involvement is emblematic of responsible citizenship, one of the company's five principles guiding its relationship to the larger community."

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