Superintendents Share Strategies to Change Harmful Policies
Nearly 100 people braved the wind and snow on January 29 to participate in the Coalition’s first forum in a three part series on Education and Democracy, Superintendents Fight Back. (Skip the summary and watch the video here)
Three superintendents offered examples of both issues and actions they had taken to challenge state policy: Jim Lloyd of Olmsted Falls, Walter Davis of Woodridge Local that serves seven communities in Summit County, and Talisa Dixon of Cleveland Heights-University Heights.
Resistance to harmful state policies is growing and as the superintendents illustrated, leaders from districts that vary in size and demographics, test performance, property wealth and state funding are concerned and speaking out, even when the policy is not necessarily harmful to their district.
It can be risky to advocate, but in each case they were freed to be themselves and voice their concerns because their boards of education expected them to advocate for the interests of their students and community. Superintendent Talisa Dixon credited the leadership of the Coalition and our active and concerned community for pushing her to use her voice.
Superintendents are in a unique position to know how policies are affecting the success of their schools and, unlike policy makers, are professional educators and know what works. All three are part of a working group of superintendents that is developing a position statement on public education as a way to unite and rally other superintendents and the public to defend public education.
Each speaker made it clear that it is citizen advocacy that will produce change.
Jim Lloyd described superintendents as creative problem solvers. They need to find their voices and use them to inform the public and policy makers about what isn’t working, and to offer solutions. When policies undermine the district’s mission then the community, staff, a
nd state legislators need to know. The Olmsted Falls mission is to inspire and empower students. “Testing does just the opposite,” said Lloyd! He is a critic of state testing and finds the state report card to be irrelevant. His district created its own accountability system. He also organized superintendents from across Ohio to protest in Columbus the state’s proposed graduation requirements.
State funding is another tough issue that draws attention from these leaders. Walter Davis has led the charge to guarantee that his high wealth and low state aid district gets a fair shake in the state budget. His district receives less than $700 per student in state aid compared to private schools in Ohio that receive $1,300 per student for administrative costs.
Another financial drain is charters and vouchers, and all three districts have invoiced the state for the return of lost funds in protest. They have met some success in efforts to recruit back to their schools students attending charter schools.
Here are some of the ingredients for fighting back: be able to define the concern based on meaningful stories of how a policy is affecting children and their life in schools; have a solution; develop relationships and meet frequently with legislat-
ors and state board of education members– listen to them, be there for them, have them listen to you; speak up with your community; and work with others.