When we were young children, my brother and I would spend hours glued to our television set watching Bugs Bunny, Mighty Mouse, and other popular cartoons. While the story lines in most of them are victims of Father Time and now merely serve as fond memories, I vividly recall one episode of Tweety Bird and Sylvester. In it, Sylvester has Tweety Bird trapped in his paws when an angel-like replica of the oversized cat suddenly appears on one of his shoulders and begs him not to devour the helpless little bird. As Sylvester begins to weaken and consider other options, a devil-like replica of him appears on his other shoulder and implores him not to wimp out and to go ahead and eat Tweety Bird. Predictably, good conquers evil and Tweety Bird lives to appear in future cartoons. Today, we are at a crossroads where the heart and soul of America is at stake. Like the outcome of that episode of Tweety Bird and Sylvester, I believe our nation’s better angels will rule the day.
Despite widespread concern about the state of our democracy, most Americans still feel they can influence problem solving locally and to a lesser extent nationally when people work together. In a recent study of Americans’ views on making democracy work for everyone, Public Agenda found that a strong majority of Americans (74 percent) believe that “when enough people get involved,” they have a lot of influence over how their communities address problems.
This past Tuesday, the Deer Park Schools hosted its first ever virtual “Community Conversation on Race, Equity and Understanding.” The conversation was organized by Deer Park School Superintendent Jay Phillips who explained that “we are committed to helping create positive change in our community and in our schools through open and honest dialogue.” Tuesday’s community discussion featured a panel of Deer Park teachers, students and community members who talked about what it is like for them to be a minority in the Deer Park Community, the Cincinnati area, and more broadly, in the United States of America in the year 2020. Deer Park is helping to lead a grassroots initiative of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network to provide the citizens in our state with an opportunity to discuss important issues and concerns impacting their schools and communities.
Yesterday, the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network hosted another local discussion with Ohio’s state legislators. Last evening, OPSAN leaders in the Deer Park City Community School District met on Zoom with State Senator Bill Blessing and State Representative Jessica Miranda. Like the previous OPSAN discussions with legislators representing the Mayfield, Boardman, North Royalton and Woodridge school districts, the conversation in Deer Park was comfortable and productive. Follow up meetings with legislators to discuss the ongoing impact of COVID-19 will be scheduled after school opens.
One of the things we’ve learned over the past few months is that the spread of COVID-19 has no boundaries. It doesn’t differentiate between school systems and the communities they serve. This summer, I’ve had an opportunity to talk with a number of superintendents about how the opening of school will not only impact their staff, students and immediate families, but how it could also impact other citizens in the community. While it is unclear what the year of COVID-19 will bring, I am confident that our local educational leaders will do whatever they can to keep everyone safe.
This past week, the Woodridge Local School District’s leadership team for the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network hosted a Zoom discussion with State Representatives Bill Roemer (R-Ritchfield) and Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson). Similar to the recent OPSAN meeting in North Royalton with State Senator Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls), the Woodridge discussion centered around the challenge of opening school this coming year. On July 14, the OPSAN leadership team for the Deer Park Community City Schools (just north of Cincinnati) will be hosting a Zoom meeting with the district’s state senator and state representative.
In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education reported in “A Nation at Risk” that America’s public schools were failing. For nearly four decades, this has been the underlying narrative driving the education reform movement in our country. Today, however, thanks to COVID-19 and the shutdown of our public schools, this old narrative is being challenged. The heroic response of our teachers to the current pandemic has established the new narrative that they can be trusted do what is best for our children, their families and our communities.
Today, our democracy is struggling through one of the most politically divisive periods in our nation’s history. Throughout my career, one of the persons I’ve turned to for insight and perspective in times like this is David Mathews. Dr. Mathews is president and CEO of the Kettering Foundation, an international research institution which studies what it takes to make democracy work as it should. This past year, he delivered the closing remarks at Kettering’s “National Issues Forum” in Washington, DC. The topic of his address was political division.
Tuesday evening, North Royalton’s leadership team for the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network hosted a Zoom meeting with State Senator Matt Dolan. Predictably, the bulk of the conversation centered around the current challenge of opening school this coming year. Without getting into the weeds of what was a very congenial and productive discussion, Senator Dolan said something that I’d like to share. Not only did he thank everyone for their valuable feedback, but he also validated the importance of their conversation by asking if he could meet with them again to learn what they are learning about the realities of reopening school amid this pandemic. This was Senator Dolan’s second discussion with the leadership teams from OPSAN’s 10 pilot districts. He met with Mayfield prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. It is clear that these discussions with state legislators (which also have occurred in other OPSAN pilot districts prior to the pandemic) are building trust and confidence and should not only be continued but also expanded. Currently, the OPSAN leadership teams from Woodridge and Deer Park are scheduling Zoom meetings with their legislative officials.
This past year, Charlie Irish and I co-authored Cleaning Up the Mess from Sacred Cows: A Strategy to Take Back Our Public Schools. In it, we discuss how unchallenged conventional wisdom threatens the future of our public schools. One of the sacred cow beliefs highlighted in our book is that whatever teachers are asked to do, they’ll make it work. Following three decades of rigorous education reform, this well-meaning rallying cry has placed a heavy, and sometimes unrealistic, burden on our teaching profession. Now, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our teachers are being asked once again to do more and make it work.