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Words from the Sup't by Dr. Rod Rock

Superintendent's call to action: part II

May 18, 2011 - I received more than 600 responses to my first Superintendent's Call to Action from as far away as Texas, Florida, Illinois, and Escanaba. There's a very strong push to join together in support of locally controlled schools; excellent teachers; engaged, globally connected students; and collaborative communities and parents. I'm very excited and I hope you are as well.

A particularly moving response came from a high school student in Michigan who dreams of becoming a special education teacher. His brother has special needs, and he wants to become a teacher in order to make a difference for people like his brother. He's scared that the proposed and unnecessary cuts to our local schools and children (the ones with the first, middle, and last names), will render an end to his dream. No, not on my watch. He is the reason I'm standing up.

I don't believe that my fellow educators have any quarrel with the fact that Michigan's economy and population have declined over the past several years. I do believe that educators are willing to do their fair share to help get the budget back into balance. No one wants to mortgage the future of our children.

Our issue is that there is enough money in the Michigan School Aid fund to maintain per pupil funding (and perhaps even to increase it). Additionally, this week, Michigan's Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference will likely show an unexpected increase of $500+ million. If the governor's agenda is to balance the budget, let's work together on it. If the agenda is to devalue public education, then we will stand together against it. Not on our watch!

Although the response was overwhelmingly supportive, I welcome divergent viewpoints on this quintessential topic. In fact, I'm advocating for exactly that, discourse. Agendas kill conversations, right? I mean, people advocating certain agendas don't listen to other perspectives. Their only task is to ram through their agendas. Our task is different—we wish to engage in sense-making discourse toward a shared understanding of what we know is best for our kids, now and in the future.

One thing that puzzles me about education in Michigan is that our governor speaks out against teachers and schools. This makes no sense to me. Teachers are our number one resource.

They're the ones who engage with our students each day. They're the ones who make the biggest difference in students' learning. They're our coaches, tutors, club sponsors, mentors, and inspiration. (If you can read this, thank a teacher). Why would anyone think that attacking teachers would improve students' learning?

As the leader of a school district, I need teachers to focus on teaching and learning. I do not want them worried about budgets, supplies, or their safety. I want to remove the obstacles to effective teaching so that our teachers can focus on their art and craft. It simply does not make sense to use the media to bad mouth teachers and schools with suspect data. If school boards and superintendents spend most of their time cutting budgets, how can they foster improvements in teaching and learning? If we continue to reduce the number of principals and require yearly teacher evaluations, how can we possibly think that they'll create evaluation processes that positively affect teaching and learning? An antagonistic relationships between a leader and teachers is counterintuitive.

Maybe it makes more sense to change the governor's approach than it does to put in place more punitive systems (like Race to the Top) and unnecessarily cut educational funding. Maybe it's time for the governor to partner with MEA, AFT, MASSP, MEMSPA, PTA, MASA, MAISA, Learning Forward, Michigan ASCD, preschool groups, local school districts, and postsecondary educators to ensure that every child receives a world class education. I can't imagine a counter argument for this line of reasoning.

Last week, I entitled our cause EducatioNO!, which some saw as overly negative. As a learner without an entrenched agenda, I agree and have decided to evolve the name to EducatiokNOW!. Let's do what we know is right for kids now and in the future.

Let's not base the future of our children on political agendas or fluctuating tax revenues based solely on the economy. Like any family or business experiencing a decrease in revenues, we have to spend our money based upon our values. We value locally controlled public schools; excellent teachers; engaged, globally connected students; and collaborative communities and parents.

In a book entitled Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology (2009), Dr. Allan Collins of Northwestern University in Chicago stated, "The advent of the industrial age opened a window for Horace Mann and his contemporaries to shape the American education system of today. We again find ourselves at such a window of opportunity, where there is a battle raging between conventional and revolutionary venues for learning. There are many educational visionaries alive today. Not all of their dreams will succeed, but a few may capture the moment with the right idea and the right approach to change the future of education. Who is the next Horace Mann?" (p. 8).

My answer is, "I am. You are. We are. We have to be."

The really bad news is that, because we've advocated so strongly through our phone calls and e-mails to legislators and we haven't seen the kind of change we'd hoped, we're tired. This is what the governor is counting on, and it's exactly why we have to redouble our efforts. We have to let our senators, representatives, and governor know that we're standing up together against unnecessarily cuts. We won't take it. It's unjust and unfair. Instead, let's work together to make change work for every child entrusted by parents and local communities to us.

Next week, I will propose an Educational Bill of Rights and talk more about EducatiokNOW!.

In the mean time, please call and write your senator and representatives, go to Lansing, rally locally, and stand together for our kids. Be Horace Mann. If you don't, who will? If we don't, they'll bring us together to a slow boil, and we'll go back to react mode. Not on our watch.

Rod Rock, Ed.D., is superintendent of Clarkston Community Schools

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