Despite the division and turmoil that currently plagues our nation, I believe that what the authors said two decades ago in the introduction to The Power of Public Engagement: A Beacon of Hope for America’s Schools still rings true today: “While the public schools are the focus of this book, what we (some of Ohio’s leading educators) have written has broad implications for all public institutions. In Ohio, where much of the money for the public schools comes from local tax levies, we are being forced, out of necessity, to think differently in order to reconnect our schools. In challenging the conventional wisdom of our profession, we have entered a world we never knew existed. To our pleasant surprise, it is a friendly world full of people who not only care about their public schools and the children who attend them, but who also care about those of us who are being asked to lead those schools. As you will see, this book is not just about what is happening in Ohio; it is about what can and must happen throughout our nation. It is about bringing out the basic good in people.… Continue reading
In discussing his forthcoming new book, With: Another Way of Thinking about the Relationship between People and Governing Institutions, Kettering Foundation President and CEO David Mathews states that there are things that can only be done by citizens working with citizens: “Public institutions in a democracy can’t create their own legitimacy. They can’t, on their own, define their purposes or set the standards by which they will operate. And governing institutions can’t sustain over the long term decisions that citizens are unwilling to support. Governments can build common highways but not common ground. And none of the governing institutions—even the most powerful—can generate the public determination required to keep a community or country moving ahead on difficult problems…Only citizens have the local knowledge that comes from living in a place 365 days a year. Because of this knowledge, people know how to do things that are different from what professionals can and should do.”
We have just learned that the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network will be presenting about its statewide community-based initiative at the 2020 Capital Conference of the Ohio School Boards Association. The annual conference will take place virtually this year on November 8-10. We will provide an update of the date, time and other information regarding the OPSAN presentation as soon as it becomes available.
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.