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America’s schools are at a turning point. Our children are being over-tested, our teachers are physically exhausted and emotionally demoralized, and our tax dollars are being diverted to replace our public schools with a privately managed, free-market system of education.
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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.
In her new book, Sarah Stitzlein expresses a growing concern shared by many other Americans – which is that our democracy stands on shaky ground: “As wary citizens grow increasingly distrustful of elected officials and their fellow citizens, they turn to authoritarian alternatives.” There is, however, a strategy that I’ve observed throughout my career (and is supported by many of the points that Sarah makes in her book) which can overcome this distrust. That strategy is providing citizens with opportunities to come together and make a difference. Giving citizens a legitimate voice in addressing challenges and opportunities impacting them and their public schools is a powerful remedy for reducing cynicism and increasing hope. If I’ve heard it said once, I’ve heard it said dozens and dozens of times over the past 25 years in communities throughout Ohio: “Coming together like this has has restored my faith in our democracy.”
Susie Kaeser is a community member in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District. She also is one of Ohio’s most effective spokespersons for the public schools throughout our state. In addition to co-founding the Heights Coalition for Public Education, she is a member of the statewide leadership team for the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network and serves as education specialist for the League of Women Voters of Ohio. In a recent opinion piece in Cleveland.com, she focuses on rethinking school vouchers during a pandemic.
In a feature story yesterday on CBS News “Sunday Morning,” Florida’s 2019-2020 Teacher of the Year spoke candidly about the challenges for teachers and students during the current COVID-19 crisis. One of the most powerful insights she shared is that remote learning has made one thing very clear about the value of our current educational system. It is that “there’s nothing like the connections we have at school.”
What can the coronavirus teach us about leadership at defining moments? The CEO and Chief Architect of Syntegrity have authored an insightful article in Forbes about the opportunity to start thinking now about how you’ll be ready with that plan for decisive action at the defining moment when this crisis is over. Syntegrity is a company that helps leaders at all levels rapidly solve complex issues.
Statewide and local leadership teams for the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network were recently invited to participate in a first-ever on-line discussion. Being our initial attempt to bring everyone together, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. On April 21, the response to our invitation was strong with 60 leadership team members taking part in a productive hour-long conversation. In addition to indicating that this grassroots movement to help shape statewide education policy is catching on, the high level of meeting participation shows that we can continue to build momentum throughout the current period of social distancing. With regard to next steps, one of our major priorities will be to continue to expand our local leadership teams to include broad cross-sections of our local communities.
In April, Fallon Research surveyed Ohio’s public school parents and asked them to rate the performance of their school district during the coronavirus shutdown. One of major findings of the study is that the vast majority (79%) of parents were very satisfied with the remote learning opportunities that had been offered. Here is the full report.
As many of you know, a grassroots movement is under way in Ohio to give citizens a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy. On April 21, community leadership teams from school districts spearheading this movement are meeting online at 7 p.m. This blog is an invitation for you to join the conversation. Below is the meeting information.
The Conversation on Zoom
Meeting ID: 114 884 728