President's Corner Page 46
Sending Mixed Messages
BY PATRICIA E. NEUDECKER
Across the United States, thousands of schools are being led by ingenious, inventive superintendents who squeeze, trim and stretch every resource they have available to deliver on the promise of a quality education to all students.
I know this to be true because I have met those superintendents throughout my year as AASA president, and I have heard their stories from across the country. They are courageous, compassionate, tireless leaders who know and understand the needs of their students. However, those needs are increasingly complex, and superintendents must meet them in the face of an array of challenges on the state and local levels. The goals of a public education system are consistent across our states, but the landscape and challenges to each school system vary by location.
I can’t imagine a more challenging time for education leaders and public schools. Our school system leaders are challenged by increased education needs and decreased resources.
Some school systems have met this challenge through traditional approaches such as increasing class sizes, cutting school days, eliminating after-school activities, terminating extra services and furloughing employees. However, these difficult times require us to be more creative, to think differently. We must shift our thinking from “doing less because we have less” to “doing more without having more.”
Simply stated, as school system leaders, we must think outside the box and inside the budget. Most likely that will entail reallocating resources to get better results that focus first and foremost on student achievement. We will need to stop doing some of the things we’ve always done and start doing new and different things. That will require courageous leadership.
We will need to explore new sources of funding and resources, find and use information differently, collaborate with those inside and outside our districts and tap into the power of technology. We will need to look beyond what is and focus on what can be.
These desperate times have provided an opportunity for all of us to take a hard look at our organizations and make tough decisions about how to move forward efficiently and effectively. And superintendents are grabbing that opportunity in exciting ways. Even now, examples of transformational practices are emerging across our nation because superintendents are thinking creatively as they strive to give every child a quality education. The formula for resourcefulness is necessity plus creativity plus persistence. That is amazing work for amazing times!
Lack of resources cannot be an excuse — we owe our students nothing but the best. Let’s be careful, however, that we don’t unintentionally send a mixed message about our ability to be resourceful. The goal of educating an increasingly diverse population of students to a level of achievement higher than ever before demands resources and public support. As leaders, we accept our responsibility to be more resourceful, but we cannot do that alone or for long.
Public education is a public good, which must be supported by public funds. Unfortunately, the back door of public funds has been opened to a privatized drain on public schools. We are witnessing a steady transfer of public assets as money is diverted to private entities.
So as we all work diligently to be more resourceful during tough economic times, we also must keep our heads up to carefully watch the shifts taking place in public education. If we remain silent, we risk sending the mixed message that we can continue to do more without more. We must take it upon ourselves to do more now to stabilize our current system, but we must continue to demand support for the new systems we are building.
We might be able to do more without more, but our future success depends on our willingness as a nation to support the mission of public education … with resources for all kids.
Patricia Neudecker is AASA president for 2011-12. E-mail: Pat.Neudecker@oasd.k12.wi.us