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Is Martyrdom Necessary to Improve Schools?

It's always heartening to learn about educators who have been able to turn around failing schools, or at least make a difference in the lives of their students ("From Humans of New York to Obama's Office: How a Principal Built a School," The New York Times, Aug. 28).  But what is rarely noted is the price they often pay in doing so.

The story of Nadia Lopez serves as a case in point.  As the new principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, she was determined to make her school, whose students are almost all disadvantaged black and Hispanic, an exception to the rule that factors outside the classroom overwhelmingly determine student performance.

She worked late nights, weekends and holidays, tutoring and counseling students who were desperately stuggling. I don't know how she was able to do as much as she did.  But her physical and mental health suffered in the process.  She developed insomnia and a debilitating chronic immune disease.  If that is what it takes to help students, it's little wonder that questions of sustainability and scalability arise. 

As I've written before, teachers are not mercenaries, but neither are they missionaries.  Lopez went beyond the latter to qualify as a saint in my opinion.  How many others are willing to follow in her path?

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