With the announcement that Dr. Richard Ross will retire at the end of December, the State Board of Education has the responsibility to hire a new state superintendent of public instruction. In a year plagued with charter school controversy, reform plans written behind closed doors, and unrest over excessive testing, this could be an opportunity to rebuild trust in Ohio’s education system. This will only happen, though, if the board takes the bold step of removing the superintendent’s position from the political realm and focuses on hiring an education leader with a vision for a strong future.
More than 1.8 million children in Ohio are depending on the state board to look past political agendas and ideologies in order to find a superintendent who can bring everyone together to meet their needs and provide them with opportunities for success.
Our children deserve:
A leader who will advocate for our traditional public schools. It is time to stop promoting vouchers and charters in the name of competition. Competition, by definition, yields winners and losers. Unfortunately, in Ohio, the wins go to the adults who make money from their for-profit charters at the expense of children who receive a lower quality education. Ohio has taken a step in the right direction with the passage of HB 2; however, we still need a leader who will take the competition out of education and instead promote all the successes that are happening in our schools everyday and look for ways to share best practices across the system.
A leader who will attract and retain people to the teaching profession by honoring and respecting the important work of educators. The “blame-and-shame” culture that came with No Child Left Behind not only drives veteran teachers out of the profession, it also makes the teaching professional an undesirable field for anyone just starting their career. Instead of burdening teachers with jumping through hoops to prove their value, we need a leader who honors the quality of our teaching force by giving teachers the time, tools and resources they need to educate children.
A leader who is transparent in creating policy and seeks input from those who are closest to the work. Another way to attract and retain great teachers is to tap into their professional knowledge when making and implementing policy. Teachers and administrators spend their careers learning and improving themselves to be better educators only to have to check their lifetimes of professional wisdom at the door in order to comply with policies created by others. Too often, as in the case of the amended HB 70, these policies are created behind closed doors with no input from those who will be impacted – parents, teachers, community members and students. We need a superintendent who will advocate for educators, include them and their recommendations in shaping policy, thoroughly vet ideas with them, get feedback from them on implementation, and respect them for their knowledge.
A leader who believes that a well-rounded education includes more than what can be reflected on a test. The overemphasis on testing is taking all the creativity and exploration out of learning. We need a leader who not only restores balance to the classroom by reducing testing, but also brings balance back to the school day by making sure that each school has a librarian who can open new worlds through a good book, a music teacher who instills a love for music, an art teacher who can tap into a child’s creativity, a physical education teacher who develops lifelong healthy habits, and a teaching staff that is empowered to tap into children’s interests and take time to explore ideas that might not be on a test.
A leader who recognizes that meeting the non-academic needs of children is a critical part of ensuring that our children can reach their academic potential. Our children come to our schools with a variety of needs that inhibit their ability and/or desire to learn. Our communities are full of resources that can move children past these barriers so that they are ready to learn. Districts across the nation, from Austin to Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to New York have visited Cincinnati schools to find out how they have been so effective in implementing a Community Learning Center model that brings community resources into the schools to help meet the needs of children. Yet Ohio has continued to overlook this model in favor of creating new distress commissions that take resources out of schools. We need a leader who will invest in our neighborhood schools by bringing the communities into the schools instead of looking for ways to farm our children out to other systems.
The president of Ohio’s state Board of Education has said the board’s sole responsibility is to hire – or fire – a state superintendent. Though I do not believe that this is the Board’s sole responsibility, I do believe that it is perhaps the most important decision that they have to make. At a time when ESEA is about to be reauthorized, Ohio will have the opportunity to chart a path that works for Ohio’s children. We need a leader who will rise above the political winds to work with educators to reclaim the promise of public education by ensuring that every child has a neighborhood school that puts him or her on the pathway to a secure and happy future.