The Last Word June 2012

By Anne L. Bryant

At NSBA’s Annual Conference in Boston in April, I presented a pop quiz to the audience. I asked, “Are you, as a school board member, A.) a transformational leader, B.) a change agent, C.) a financial steward, or D.) an advocate for children?”

Of course, it was a trick question -- the answer is E.) All of the above. Each one of these roles is vitally important, and of course there are times where you wear multiple hats.

So ask yourself this: If this question were presented to your community, which would people choose? What would they say about the schools in your district?

We now must focus on becoming leaders in our communities and becoming real leaders for public education and our schools. There’s a lot at stake -- the rhetoric against public schools has become increasingly caustic and uninformed, yet much of it seems to go unchecked.

The American Journalism Review recently published an article that examined education reporting in the media. This summary explains what school board members and other educators have known for quite some time: “The American education system has never been better, several important measures show. But you’d never know that from reading overheated media reports about ‘failing’ and enthusiastic pieces on unproven ‘reform efforts.’”

The article, written by Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi, notes that phrases like “failing schools,” “crisis,” and “ineffective teachers” have become abundantly common, while just about anyone who proposes an alternative -- no matter how unproven or unrealistic -- is labeled a “reformer.” And, he adds, “journalists rarely question the motives or credentials of ‘reformers.’”

Given this, it is our job to raise the level of understanding and knowledge about public schools in our communities. We know there are success stories in every school district -- and there are many, many great public schools out there.

Let me tell you about two exemplary school districts that NSBA’s Technology Learning Network recently visited as part of the annual Technology Site Visits.

Walking through Texas’ Klein Independent School District, I saw technologies in every classroom: interactive whiteboards, a classroom assessment “clicker” system, projectors, document cameras, laptops, handheld devices, and at least four computers per classroom.

But the real story was not the technology -- it was the transformation of teaching and learning. We saw project-based learning, students in groups who were solving problems, collaborating, and using skills of analysis, diagnosis, persuasion, and creativity. Instead of classrooms with rows of seats, students were grouped around their work.

Another site visit this year was Arizona’s Dysart Unified School District, where attendees not only saw innovation, they also saw community and public engagement. The news media in Arizona just couldn’t heap enough praise on the district. Local TV station News 12 showed a four-minute video of the schools, and the reporter noted that NSBA recognized Dysart as a “premier place in the U.S. for innovations in technology.”

This news story shows what can happen when together we harness the power of NSBA, a strong state association, and a fabulous cutting-edge district transforming student achievement and demonstrating to the community that their schools truly are the centerpiece. School districts like Klein and Dysart show excellence and student achievement.

Now it’s your turn to engage your communities and show what is working. We haven’t been loud enough. We know that bad news often makes the biggest headlines. We can’t ignore the problems, but we must be seen as the leaders who can drive reform.

You must tell your stories of how the investment you made in technology or professional development is driving teaching and 21st century learning. You must inspire and cajole your fellow school board members, parents, teachers, students, and citizens who appreciate their public schools to become the voices for public education in the press, for lawmakers, and for public policy leaders.

And you, in turn, must be seen as transformational leaders, agents of change -- and yes, financial stewards -- who wisely invest so that students thrive and teachers and staff continuously improve.

Anne L. Bryant (abryant@nsba.org) is the executive director of NSBA.