In general, the residents are not engaged in public school issues. They accept matters presented by the board and administration as given facts. They view them as prescribed by a higher authority from Washington, DC, to Albany, NY (in our case), to local districts without room for a debate. When they, eventually, raise a question, they hear easy answers: “It’s a law.” “It’s a mandate.”
The reality is different, though. Engaged residents together with the BOE, administrators and teachers can tremendously influence the state of education in individual communities. In an effort to increase engagement of residents, I presented the school board the following proposal at the July 8th BOE meeting.
Dear board members,
The education is at the crossroads. The two New York State front runners in gubernatorial race are competing for corporate donations and public support on the platform of advancing charter schools. One wants to double their cap, the other wants to abolish the cap completely. Both are proclaiming the public schools broken and calling for “disruption” via market forces. On the other hand, the teacher unions had the first contested election in ages and fingers on one hand would not account for all union factions. In the upcoming year, teachers will be preoccupied by the suit recently filed in NY that follows in footsteps of the Vergara case in California.
During these times we need to attract more stakeholders to actively participate in this public educational enterprise. We also need open-minded leadership. Leadership that will guide us. Leadership that can help build relationships and encourages teachers to be creative. A feature that current business leaders in charge of education attribute to charter schools only. Teachers who are given autonomy will be more likely to give autonomy to their students. We need leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. Leaders who are passionate enough about their craft that they want to debate what is good and what is bad.
Times of accountability have brought about more rule following and less risk-taking. It’s pathetic that school leaders shy away from debate in order to just move forward to follow rules. Debate is healthy, inspiring, and can lead to stronger practices. From the state level to the district and building level we need leaders who can differentiate between what is a positive change and what has negative consequences for teachers and students. We need leaders who understand the importance of family-like environment in the early years of primary school and who also understand the importance of world-level integration when students are exiting the high school. Thanks to the internet and social media we are able to observe practices of such leaders on a daily basis. We can interact with them. Inspiring examples of what public schools are capable of achieving under such lead learners broaden one’s horizons.
Therefore, I suggest the MUFSD board of education establishes a search committee and invites residents, students, and teachers to participate. Among other activities that would be set later, search committee will:
- research and determine leadership characteristics,
- hold monthly public meetings,
- determine the advertising campaigns,
- invite candidates for opening positions to speak in front of the forum.
In a debate that ensued, I learned that similar committees are already in effect. They consist of residents, parents, and teachers, just not students. I welcomed such revelation. Publicizing the work in the committees will engage residents. As a stakeholder, I’ll find some time to volunteer for the benefits of our community. I ask all stakeholders to send the school board (firstname.lastname@example.org) a message in support of this proposal and also inquire how to join this and the other committees.
Have you come across some excellent ideas that would be worth implementing in our school district?
Since the proposal submission, Mr. Astorino, challenger to Mr. Cuomo, transformed his stance on charter schools, as was evident at his gathering in Greenlawn this past Sunday. The situation in AFT is more desperate, than I anticipated, as their conference indicates.