President's Corner

Let's Become Champions of Learning

by Daniel A. Domenech

Sometimes, it's hard to tell whether improving student achievement is an objective or a debate topic. Nothing stirs questions quite like a challenge to improve the performance of children in the classroom. "What do we want them to achieve?" "How about those important things we can't measure?" "How can we be accountable for improving achievement when we don't control all the variables?"

All of those questions, and many others, deserve attention. However, as school leaders, we need to accept a basic fact. Our communities hold us accountable for improving student performance. It's not open to debate. That's what people expect of us.

Today, we stand on the threshold of a new century and a new millennium. The world is swirling with conflicting views about the future. What a magnificent opportunity we have to rally our fellow educators, parents, nonparent taxpayers, business and professional people, the media, government leaders and others in the cause of even better education for all of our kids, whatever their social, racial or economic backgrounds. We need them all, and each of us must be their champion.

Today, at nearly every meeting of business or government leaders, we hear a cry for higher standards, followed closely by a call for testing and assessment instruments that will tell us whether students have reached them. Every professional educator has a legitimate concern about the appropriateness of standards and the validity and reliability of standardized tests. Yet one glaring fact remains. If we don't take leadership in every aspect of student achievement, someone else will.

Here are some additional reasons why we must place primary emphasis on improving the achievement of students:

  • Our collective future depends on it.
  • Their achievement is our achievement.
  • As educators, we're expected to know how to help students do better, even against great odds.
  • People want to be confident that today's kids will be able to become lifelong achievers in what is fast becoming a global knowledge/information age.
  • Doing so helps us demonstrate that we are superintendents of education for our entire communities, not just managers of the system.

Our responsibilities are legion. Each of us is expected to orchestrate a vision for our education system, to be adept at policy and governance, to be skilled in communication and community relations, to ably manage the organization, to understand how to plan and develop curriculum, to be an instructional leader and to have skill in staff evaluation, personnel management, professional development, research, evaluation and planning. At the same time, we must maintain our personal and professional integrity and lead our system within an ethical framework.

True leadership requires even more. It demands a heavy dose of courage on behalf of those we serve. Granted, when we hold ourselves accountable for student achievement, we put ourselves on the spot. However, some of the most outstanding leaders in education understand that their personal commitment to helping students do even better will release the energies of exciting and innovative teachers and administrators and invigorate the community to become part of the education team.

Our courage will release the courage and confidence of others. As champions of learning, we can stimulate the entire community to join us in laying it on the line for kids.