An African proverb speaks about the importance of embracing the wisdom of someone who is new to a place, who can see and bring fresh ideas, along with someone who may have the wisdom born out of experience, having lived though the challenges of figuring out how best to do something.  As we begin the school year I welcome the opportunity to bring these two components of wisdom together in my role as a school superintendent.  It is my hope that the collective wisdom of the school community will lead to an enriching experience for the students, staff, and families that I serve.

 

It is no secret that we begin this school year where various challenges are evident in our daily lives.  Each school year can be marked by events that allow a learning community to step outside the walls of a school in an effort to learn the authentic lessons of the day which willbenefit students at any given time.  The “good old days” had their share of challenges, where students, teachers, and families faced unique circumstances—both locally and globally.  WWI, The Great Depression, WWII, were all times when children and families witnessed and/or experienced tumultuous events. 

 

The 2014 -2015 school year is no exception.  Beyond global events overseas in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, people everywhere seek to overcome any number of personal challenges.  Certainly the experience of school can and should be a safe haven for students of all ages.  Here too though challenges exist.

 

Local school communities are challenged with navigating the ongoing assault against public education.   News media accounts of failing schools, failing students and teachers blurs the discussion about how we can and must work together to understand what is best for our students, our teachers, and our schools.  Ranking and sorting people and systems, while possibly appealing in many aspects of daily life, is not the best way to prepare our students or our schools for the future.  We must welcome a “new eyes wisdom” of how to change, but also protect our “old eyes wisdom” of what works best.

 

Over testing and the accompanying culture of fear is not a wise way to shape the direction for improved outcomes.  These are not your grandmother’s exams, not in scope nor in the volume of testing, starting as early as kindergarten.  Undermining the ability of a school community to build a healthy culture for embracing a wide assortment of quality experiences in the arts, civics, history, science, math, language, and physical well being (not to mention emotional well being) is an ill conceived agenda for progress.  Such is the current state of “reform” of education throughout New York and the nation today.

 

I am not suggesting that change is not the order of the day.  The tools for interacting and engaging in the larger life lessons that our students need when they graduate from high school have certainly changed from yesteryear.  Today we learn of events instantly, instead of waiting for the morning paper.   We live in an age where technology and commerce leverage the use of data to provide choices never before seen.  Think of Angie’s List, and any number of consumer services that we interface with each week.  Regardless of how one views these changes as compared to how we used to do things, establishing learning communities based on trust and respect are not incompatible with advancing the agenda for our schools.   It is an overly simplistic, and false notion, to believe that schools must become “new and improved” by getting rid of “old and outmoded.”  This is an incorrect view of how we should establish policies that govern one of the most important democratic institutions of our country—the local school as a centerpiece of the community.

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