Ohio Public School Advocacy Network
As we all know, the political division in our nation has reached the point where we are unable to solve many of our nation’s most serious problems. It is time for us to turn things around and start listening to one another and working together. A well-written article in The Atlantic magazine puts into clear perspective the cost of abandoning an institution, our public schools, that is designed to bind, not divide our citizenry. The article, entitled “Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake,” is lengthy but worth taking the time to read and share with others.
More than 100 citizens attended the recent community meeting to discuss school safety in the Avon Lake City School District (Ohio). Highlights of the two-hour discussion are available on the district’s website. In a candid interview with Avon Lake Superintendent Bob Scott, I asked him what he learned. His response: “Providing people with information is not always enough. Like many other important topics, school safety requires a two-way conversation. My overall takeaway from our discussion is that most of the public concern was focused on the mental health aspect of school safety. Our citizens understand that we have to be able to identify students who need our help in order to prevent an incident like the one that tragically occurred in Parkland, Florida. This, of course, does not discount the importance of safety plans and safe facilities. Avon Lake and school districts across the country have planned, implemented, re-evaluated and continuously modified safety plans even prior to Columbine. What we have learned is that barriers and drills may reduce the possibility of a crisis and may reduce casualties during a crisis, but relationships and communication are our best safety… Continue reading
Monday night, the Gahanna-Jefferson City School District hosted a community meeting to discuss school safety in the wake of the Parkland massacre. “So much of this is about mental health,” explained Gahanna-Jefferson Superintendent Steve Barrett. “We want to help all of our kids with social-emotional issues. It’s not just about academics.” Coverage of the meeting from Channel 4 News highlights some of the concerns that were discussed.
“Breaking the silence is the first step. It makes it possible to stake out an issue, draw others to it and empower people, who may have been silenced by the policy, to begin to use their influence…Silence is the enemy of change.” This thought-provoking quote appeared on March 1 in the Heights Observer. The column was written by Susie Kaeser, a long-time resident of Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District (Ohio) and a national board member of Parents for Public Schools. Like public schools across the nation, her district has been deeply affected by the adoption of federal and state policies that have made testing, accountability and privatization the key levers for affecting school quality. A staunch advocate for public education, Susie was instrumental in the formation more than four years ago of the Heights Coalition for Public Education, an all-volunteer group of concerned community members who are calling on Congress and the Ohio Legislature to end their war on public education.
Researchers and clinicians who have studied the problem of violence over the past three decades have found a steady increase in levels of children’s exposure to violence. On the heels of the Parkland school shootings, Daniel J. Flannery recently reported how witnessing violence harms children’s mental health. Flannery is Professor and Director of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University.
Amid the national focus on school safety following the tragic shootings in Parkland, Florida, local school and community leaders throughout our nation now have an important choice to make. They can wait for federal and state government policymakers to tell them what to do to beef up protection for their staff and students or they can take the bull by the horns. They can sit down with their staff and students, design a plan that is tailored to each of their school systems, discuss it with their parents and community and then generate local public support (including money) in order to make it happen. It is clear that the growing concern about school safety has hit a tipping point. As a result, the window of opportunity to provide our citizens with an opportunity to make a real difference has never been greater. It is time to take the bull by the horns.
On January 18, one of the education policy groups working with the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network hosted three of the superintendents who are helping to lead this grassroots movement to provide citizens with a stronger voice in shaping statewide education policy. Sponsored by the Heights Coalition for Public Education and entitled “Superintendents Fight Back,” the panel presentation and discussion featured Woodridge Superintendent Walter Davis, Olmsted Falls Superintendent Jim Lloyd and Cleveland Heights-University Heights Superintendent Talisa Dixon. In addition to the website article, the 90-minute forum was video-recorded. The goal this year for the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network is to create education policy advisory groups in school districts throughout Ohio.
Throughout his 13-career as superintendent of the Medina City Schools, Charlie Irish became somewhat of an expert at utilizing the power of public engagement to pass operating levies and bond issues. Today, however, in his post-retirement career working with the Kettering Foundation, he admits that he’s done a flip-flop on his earlier views about engagement: “There was a time when I believed that engaging our residents in conversations about important topics such as voting for levies and rallying around other causes that our school board and I thought were important was enough. While in the short run it did help us build enough community support to pass several school tax issues, it didn’t empower our citizens to assume ownership of education in our community. For me, the lesson in all of this is that the real power of public engagement is empowering citizens to forge their own collective judgement about issues. By providing them with the opportunity to name these issues for themselves and define their own choices for action, they will own the responsibility for addressing whatever is at stake.”
Last evening, Paul Pendleton called me regarding my blog on Wednesday entitled “Need More from Our Public Engagement.” A former school superintendent, good friend and colleague in our work with the Kettering Foundation, Paul said he strongly agreed with the Colorado State University professor who stated that providing opportunities for people to express their opinions is simply the first step to generating public ownership of the challenges facing our public schools. Paul explained that empowerment, not engagement, is what really generates ownership. I can’t agree more. Over the past two decades, we’ve both learned that when citizens are empowered with the responsibility for fixing a problem, they nearly always step up to the plate and make a difference.
I recently read a powerful quote about public engagement that is timely and relevant for the grassroots movement being led by the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network to provide Ohio’s citizens with a stronger voice in shaping education policy in our state. The quote appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Kettering Review from Martin Carcasson, professor of communication studies at Colorado State University and founder and director of the CSU Center for Public Deliberation. He states: “Based on our knowledge of wicked problems, we know we need much more from our public engagement. Providing opportunities for people to express their opinions is simply the first step. Beyond that, we need our public process to allow people to develop mutual understanding and trust. We need processes that help us elevate quality arguments and expose weak or manipulative ones. We need processes that incite learning and refinement of opinions. We need processes that spark creativity and innovation, and ultimately lead to co-creation and collaborative action.”