Count Us In

Count Us In

School boards face increasing challenges in these tough economic times including more federal mandates, charter school initiatives and a lack of alignment with community expectations.

Associate Editor Marion Herbert and I had the pleasure of attending the National School Boards Association's (NSBA) 70th Annual Conference held April 10-12 in Chicago. What was most evident was how the commitment to student success among the attendees is unwavering even with the increasing challenges they face in these tough economic times, including more federal mandates, charter schools and a lack of alignment with community expectations.

The rich program included a keynote by Grammy Award-winning musician Wynton Marsalis, who illustrated through music the importance of arts education at a time when budget cuts are forcing most districts to scale back, and Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone, addressed the National Black Caucus of School Board Members. "You have to have aspirations for all kids, and for me, that's college," said Canada. "The only goal I have is for all these kids to go to college. If you get paid to work with other people's kids, you should have the same aspirations for them as you have for your own children. And I have yet to see a wealthy person who did not want all of their kids to go to college." The slogan for this year's conference, "Count Us In," demonstrated the dedication school board members exhibit to come together, tackle their district's challenges, and ultimately, drive students to succeed.

School board members across the country may need to focus on the Race to the Top program sometime next year, since it's rumored that individual districts will be able to apply. I understand what the Obama administration is doing to overhaul today's schools. It's needed. It's already been effective. So far a dozen states have rewritten education laws in ways the administration had recommended, and that's big. Still, the shift of a larger proportion of federal dollars into a gamelike competition seems wrong somehow. Budget processes are thrown off, and collaboration between states is lessened. Those who have better grant writers have the competitive advantage.

Forty states and the District of Columbia applied for grants in Race to the Top's first round. One state that did not apply in the first round, and that will be skipping the next round, is Texas. Gov. Rick Perry considers the contest to be overly intrusive, yet unlike most states, Texas can afford to pass on the chance for additional federal money. Its unique Texas Permanent School Fund provides approximately $765 million a year to local school districts, according to the Texas Education Agency's Web site. "Lone Star" by Products Editor Kurt Eisele-Dyrli is the first in a three-part article series on the states that we at DA watch as trendsetters for education reform.

Along with exploring Texas as a whole, we focus on Terry Grier, the new superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, whose style is to move quickly and boldly to improve teacher quality and student performance. Another administrator whom we focus on this issue is Frances Gallo, superintendent of Central Falls (R.I.) Schools. Senior Editor Angela Pascopella checked in with this brave woman who made national headlines for firing all the teachers, support staff and administrators at Central Falls High School.

Lastly, I'd like to applaud the administration for reviving the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. In March, the Los Angeles Unified School District became the first of 32 K12 districts to undergo federal civil rights compliance reviews. Officials say the department's goal is to eliminate discrimination based on color, language and/or disability to help the United States regain its status by 2020 as the leading producer of college graduates—somewhere I know we all want to be.

Judy Faust Hartnett, Editor in Chief

jhartnett@districtadministration.com

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