SANTA MONICA—Paul Cummins is a man whose accomplishments in the educational world are beyond anything most can imagine. He is a long-time Los Angelino and educator who completed studies at Harvard and Stanford. He has worked as a headmaster, and started several charter schools in the Los Angeles region.
He co-founded Crossroads School in Santa Monica in 1971 and he is the Founder, President and CEO of Coalition for Engaged Education. The first venture was New Roads School, a diverse, K-12 independent school in Santa Monica that has a deep commitment to social justice. New Roads devotes 40 percent of its tuition budget to need-based student financial aid, guaranteeing access to students from a wide socioeconomic array. He has worked tirelessly for the past 15 years with kids with disadvantages.
Canyon News had the pleasure to speak with Paul Cummins to discuss the importance of education and talk a bit about his new book Confessions of a Headmaster. While talking with Paul he noted that the public sector shouldn’t dismiss private schools. He has seen private schools have 100 percent of grads go to college and graduate from four-year universities.
He noted there is a big difference in the teaching conditions in a private school compared to a public school. He explained his time working in schools where he taught four classes a day with 12 students in each class. In comparison with public schools, where it could be 30-40 students per class, which impacts the education the students receive.
Mr. Cummins explained to Canyon News that private schools spend more on per pupil vs. public schools. “Little money is spent on education and we need to focus on poverty in inner cities and environmental education,” said Cummins. He began writing as an undergraduate, and started writing poetry as a graduate student for his dissertation which soon became an interest for the next 30 years.
When asked the question about dropout rates being cut in low-income neighborhoods, Mr. Cummins responded, “What disengages students in education is when courses they enjoy are cut.” Courses like arts, theatre, music, dance and physical education are all important. Cummins explained that highlighting such courses are important for keeping students engaged in education. In addition, human development classes, communication and community service and other hands on courses costs more money, which emphasized Paul’s goal of ensuring that the government on a local, state and federal level become more involved investing more in education.
Parent organizations, including fundraisers, and the federal government play vital roles in the arts in public schools, Cummins noted. “We have to look at our priorities,” said Cummins. To help impact both public and private education in America Paul is hoping his current book and his book tour will widen the dialogue on the issue. In addition, he is hoping it helps raise standardized test scores and enrich curriculum dramatically to make us conscious of real problems.
Mr. Cummins explained that private schools giving 1 percent of budget to public schools for arts programs can help such advancement. His goal is to aim for more independent schools with huge financial aid for low-income students to attend.
When asked about the importance of teachers paying attention to passions that students have Paul responded, “If a kid gets excited that spills over to other arenas. Teachers have to be attentive to difference and help develop those passions.” He acknowledged that it’s difficult to achieve that when there are classes with a lot more students, compared to smaller class sizes which help. He noted it’s a funding issue, but teaching conditions also impact encouraging those passions in students as well.
Paul informed Canyon News that he has established a non-profit with a board that is working on starting an all-girl school in the low-income region of Pineridge, South Dakota. He explained the impact of a high teenage suicide rate in the last year in the region where more than 10 suicides took place. The goal is to start a prep school that offers the same level of quality to the students.
His current book Confessions of a Headmaster has a bit of a racy title as Cummins joked. The book is available on Amazon, in some book stores and discusses the journey of someone from a conservative family, not as intellectual as one may think, who became energetic about education and learning and there are some funny stories in the book as well. The book chronicles his career as a teacher, headmaster, and school founder. Paul shares tales of his privileged childhood and his mission to improve education for all youth from the kids of celebrities to foster and incarcerated youth.
He is currently working on the new book entitled Engaged Education. He resides in Santa Monica with his wife Mary Ann. Those interested in helping Mr. Cummins in his fight to improve education in the public and private sector can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.