Sunday, March 27, 2011

School Climate

It is useful to draw attention to the importance and excellence of our teachers, but it would be severely limiting to underestimate the importance of other aspects (i.e., energy efficient buildings and clean environments, budgets that reflect goals and priorities, effective building leaders, or anything else) that contribute to a positive school climate for teaching and learning.  

I believe it is easy for people to underestimate the level of thought and collaboration necessary for a high functioning educational enterprise.  Superintendent Dr. Ash and his administrative team are attuned to all of these aspects and more, keeping the School Committee, Selectmen, Appropriation and Capital Expenditures Committees, Town Manager and others apprised of emerging issues or developments across the district, especially as they relate to people, programs, and facilities.
Our students continue to be well served due to the high quality of instruction to students from our educators, the engagement of our students and families, and also to our nationally recognized high level of commitment to professional development and collaboration with the Lexington Education Association (LEA).  Because the community and district place such a high value on these attributes, our schools continue to improve.

Two years ago, the LEA surveyed all teachers on a full complement of issues; the administration has worked collaboratively with LEA President Phyllis Neufield and the LEA Board with regard to the data obtained from that survey.  Another such survey may be administered again in the near future.  I believe this process fosters greater educator satisfaction and stability, as well as a more comprehensive and unified instructional program, thereby engendering further trust and collaboration from all involved.

Our schools are thoughtfully, collaboratively, and financially well run.  The vast majority of teachers in Lexington are retained from year to year and are committed to the goals of continuous improvement across the district.

The School Committee has to focus on topics where we need to deliberate and take action.  We need to work hard to prioritize what we put on the agenda, whether it is with regard to special education, school technology, eliminating or reducing elementary instrumental music fees, improving professional learning communities, professional development, or many other goals already identified.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Education Opportunity & Equity - Washington DC

I attended PTA’s Annual Legislative Conference last week (March 7-10). Two others from Massachusetts’ State PTA Board joined me to meet with Massachusetts’ Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas, and Congressmen Ed Markey and Barney Frank.  We spoke with them about the importance of promoting family engagement standards in the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind and of providing opportunity and equity for all children so they can be prepared for the future.

Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, was keynote speaker at lunch Wednesday. As the country’s highest-ranking health official, Secretary Sebelius played a key role in the passage of the historic Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and is now leading its implementation.  The Secretary spoke about how effective family engagement, beginning with Head Start and during a child’s early years, lays a positive foundation for success during transitions and across a child’s lifespan.

Listening to her, I was struck anew by the powerful responsibility we all share to ensure people receive the health care they need and provide children, families, and seniors with the essential human services they depend upon.  Across Massachusetts schools lack resources for critical programs they need to reduce gaps and overcome barriers to learning that threaten the quality of education for every child and leave our most vulnerable children behind.

Our state and local governments, with the federal government as a critical third partner, also share responsibility for assuring all children have equitable access to high-quality public education and health care.  Budgets are tight but government requirements, and children's needs, are growing; this is most pronounced at the intersection of children's education and health care needs.  Engaging families on this issue is vital:  when children are healthy, school attendance improves and children learn better.

Here we are, already in the second decade of the 21st century.  as we navigate challenges before us, let us continue to look for opportunities.  Our public health infrastructure throughout the country must be a higher priority and we need to upgrade state and local health departments.  Secretary Sebelius has answered President Obama's call to break down walls in government to serve the American people more effectively.  For example, she has teamed up with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to raise the quality of early childhood education programs.

Founded in 1897, PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the country.  One of PTA's founding principles is its dedication to engaging parents in the education of their children.  Since its inception, PTA has provided workshops and resources on healthy child development to parent groups and community leaders.  From the outset, PTA championed the importance of equal opportunity for all children, regardless of socioeconomic background, and addressed  associated problems of child labor, childhood diseases, and the unfair and punitive treatment of children involved in the justice system.

PTA continues to advocate for all children to have the opportunity to grow and achieve through education.  In the context of PTA, advocacy is supporting and speaking up for children in schools, in communities, and before government bodies and other organizations that make decisions affecting children.  We educated members of Congress and their staff on PTA's priorities:  adequate funding for schools and an improved juvenile justice system that ensures all children are college and career ready.