Get Schooled reader Mary Jessie wrote a letter to new state school superintendent Brad Bryant that I thought made some good points, so I am sharing it here. Mary is a former teacher and administrator and has worked in APS and Fulton schools. She served as president-elect, president and program chairperson of the Georgia Association of School Personnel Administrators from 1996-2002 and is now an education management consultant.
I think she plots out a great plan of action for Bryant and for whomever the voters elect in November.
Dear Mr. Bryant:
Last week when Gov. Perdue appointed you as Interim State School Superintendent, he gave you what Dr. Mark Wilson, principal of Morgan County HS calls, “the power to act.” I don’t have to tell you how challenging this will be; however, I hope that when you accepted the appointment, you already possessed the knowledge that something is very wrong with education in Georgia and that you have a vision for what education should be and is supposed to accomplish.
Recently, I viewed the Georgia DOE website. I was disappointed and angered when I discovered the mission statement which reads: “To graduate all of Georgia’s public school students with a meaningful diploma based upon rigorous standards delivered by an effective qualified workforce”. While these words are well intentioned, as a career educator, I find them to be at the lowest level of expectations, short-sighted and limited. Why do I say this? If the agency with responsibility for driving the educational system in our state has such a short-term goal, this in itself serves to cheat our students out of the kind of educational opportunity that will prepare them with a high quality K-12 educational experience, encourage them to continue schooling beyond high school, and to live and work as viable citizens in the 21st century global society and beyond. If our mission is solely focused like a laser on high school completion, we are giving students only a minimal opportunity to be competitive in the world they will face in the future.
Several summers ago, I submitted a commentary for publication by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. I titled my commentary, “Prepare Students for the World, Not Just for the Test”. In this writing, I advocated for students to be exposed to an educational experience that broadens their scope and intellect, provides them with strong second language learning opportunities, builds their global awareness, increases their capacity for thinking critically and solving problems and prepares them for living well in the future. These are the kinds of high expectations all of our students need to be challenged to meet. The educational programming we provide them cannot continue to promote rote memorization, low level learning, test preparation and targets that only get them out of high school.
Mr. Bryant, let’s get real! If we are to ever be serious about ensuring that our students are competitive with students from other states as well as with people from around the world, our educational vision, mission and programming must change. Individuals like you are there to drive the change we need.
Though you are only serving in an interim capacity for now, do not use that as an excuse for not taking the needed action. I know you are focused on getting the signatures needed to place your name on the ballot in November, but at the same time, do us all a favor and be the kind of change agent we need to begin to fix our educational system. Take the steps to set in motion the kind of change at the DOE that will add the most value to ensuring that our educational system in Georgia provides students with the highest quality education possible and our state becomes a model for other states and countries around the world to emulate.
Here is a list of “must dos” for you to consider:
- Re-imagine and rebuild the DOE- What should be its role and core business? Should it be an agency for supporting schools and districts or continue as an agency for creating processes that micromanage and place unnecessary obstacles in the way of schools seeking to provide a high quality education for students?
- Consider increasing the role of the RESAs- Drill down provision of essential services to districts to a regional level where human capital with the expertise to serve should be staffed in closer proximity to the schools.
- Become the voice for education in Georgia- Get in the driver’s seat; take the vehicle in the right direction; say something of value when you get to the destination.
- Enable a functioning comprehensive data system that will provide information to school leaders to aid in making educational decisions. We have gone far too long without this system; excuses for not having it are no longer acceptable!
- Build a partnership with the Governor and members of the General Assembly so that they will be confident in you as the “leader of education” for Georgia; this will enable and increase your capacity for influencing them to create legislation that supports public schools as opposed to handicapping them or placing obstacles in their way.
- Connect with the district Superintendents around the state in a genuine way. Create an on-going advisory team of superintendents and other school district leaders who will meet with you monthly to provide you with ideas, opinions, information about best practice, local concerns, etc.
- Pull together the best financial minds in the state and identify some new sources of revenue for education to support but not replace adequate state funding; revisit QBE and create a new structure for adequately funding education in Georgia.
Mr. Bryant, through this forum, I am making a personal plea to you. In other words, I AM BEGGING you to act. I know that you have big shoes in which to walk and a long way to go. If you seriously want to be a force for moving Georgia in the right direction, you will lead the charge by making education our No. 1 priority. Please, please don’t let down the children of Georgia by denying them an opportunity to be the beneficiaries of the highest quality education possible.
Mary M. Jessie