President's Corner

Who’s Driving the District Bus?

by David E. Gee

Afew years ago, there was a movie about mischievous boys who were crammed under the dashboard of a car while trying to drive it without being able to see where they were going. They were falling all over each other in an attempt to accelerate, brake and drive the vehicle in a straight line.

Fortunately, the boys managed to pull together. One got up on the front seat so he had an unobstructed view of the highway while the others worked the pedals. Working together, they managed to arrive unscathed at their desired destination.

It all sounds so simple: Get everyone to work together and head in the same direction. The movie certainly made it seem that way. As we know, however, real life does not always mirror the cinema. It’s not always easy getting everyone to agree on a destination and then work collaboratively to get there.

For example, in public education, the individuals leading the reform efforts — those attempting to drive our buses — are often in the back seat, safe and secure with their seat belts on. Unlike those of us who grip the steering wheel, always conscious of what’s going on around us, they are not concerned about traffic jams, detours, accidents, stop lights or other drivers on the road.

Instead, they are satisfied to occupy a seat behind the real action, telling those of us in the front — and on the firing line — where to go, where to turn and how fast to move. Many demand we get to our destination as quickly as possible and according to their directions, no matter whether their path is fraught with dangerous curves, steep hills or washed-out bridges. They do not listen to our arguments for making choices different from theirs, for trying a different route. They are concerned only that we meet our quota or reach our goal as quickly as possible.

Far too many of these back-seat drivers espouse the philosophy that the end justifies the means regardless of the route taken. And if the trip is not a smooth one or if we are delayed because of an accident, road construction or weather, it is the incompetence of the bus driver, they contend, not the difficult conditions, that is to blame.

As school leaders, we often are encouraged to invite everyone to the front seat and share driving responsibilities. This invitation is extended in the spirit of cooperation and a shared vision. After all, we have the same goal and the same destination: high student achievement.

However, when some of these back-seat drivers get behind the wheel, it’s not with the intention of supporting us on this journey. Rather, it’s to take over, to send us to the back seat or even the trunk. There we are expected to stay calm, keep our mouths shut and let the reformer do the driving.

To experienced school leaders, it matters not whether our detractors are under the dashboard, on the front seat or in the back. What matters most is that we keep both hands on the wheel, navigating through troubled waters, around roadblocks and detours.

Our job is to make certain the journey is safe and that we all reach our final destination. Our ultimate job is ensuring our world, our society and our community are better places for our students’ sake, now and in the future.

While it is never a simple task, our challenge is to recognize the problems on the highway and in the back seats and to have the courage to do something about them.