Vail Daily column: Pressure, support and advocacy
Being a school superintendent often means hearing directly from those who are critical of our schools. Sometimes it’s a singular issue — a parent having trouble with a school, a teacher who is upset about part of their job, or a frustrated community member.
While there is the occasional individual who needs to vent — for the most part, my interactions with parents, teachers and the community are respectful and positive. Most people just want to be heard and have some progress made on their issue.
I’m sometimes asked if these interactions make me uncomfortable, irritated or upset. While I don’t tolerate anyone being abusive (to anyone in our schools or our offices), generally I see these interactions as opportunities for our schools to grow and improve.
One of the key components of moving our school system from “good to great” is the pressure and support of an engaged community — a community that demands a high quality education and a well-rounded experience for their children.
An engaged community pushes a school system to re-examine its approaches and decisions and challenges us to be better — to consider how we could be of greater service to kids and the entire community.
Besides working to be open, transparent and responsive to those who contact me directly, our schools actually have several forums to invite feedback from our community and use that as part of our effort to be among the best performing school systems in the world. These forums include our District (and School) Accountability Committee and our Insider’s Academy.
The District Accountability Committee is a legally required group, made up of parents and community members. This is a group of about 40 individuals who meet several times each year on what’s happening in our schools. The format of these meetings is designed to be genuine conversation where our district and school leaders can have open and unscripted discussions directly with the community. Each school also has one of these committees, called a School Accountability Committee.
Eagle County Schools also offers a year-long small group forum called Insider’s Academy. Now in its second year, the Insider’s Academy offers 10-15 community members the opportunity to go behind the scenes in learning how schools operate. We cover the history and purpose of public education, the education policy landscape, go deep into curriculum and instruction, and also cover the operational (finance, facilities, transportation, food service, technology) side of running schools. The Insider’s Academy is also structured with an emphasis on conversation — and I can tell you first hand that the school district employees who come to these meetings learn as much from the community participants as they do from us.
Both of these groups (and the questions and criticisms they bring to us) provide necessary and important pressure on our school organization to keep growing. But, coupled with this pressure for improvement, its counterpart — support — must also be present. Just as our schools have an obligation to be of service and support to our community, the reciprocal is also true. Our community has an obligation to be of service and support to our schools.
Like no time in our country’s history, our public schools are under attack from an organized and incredibly well-funded effort. Our community schools stand against hordes of nonprofit “think-tanks,” funded by billionaires with ideologically tilted agendas. Their agenda is simple — discredit, disrupt, de-fund and dismantle public education.
Our best strategy for withstanding this assault is building a strong coalition of support from within our community. In Eagle County, in Colorado, and across this country — we need educators, students, parents and community members who value our public schools to stand up, provide support and advocate for public education.
But how, you may ask?
Next week, on March 5 at 7 p.m. at Battle Mountain High School, our District Accountability Committee and the Insider’s Academy will come together to hear from Lisa Weil with Great Education Colorado, an organization committed to supporting public education in our state. Lisa will discuss the short- and long-term funding challenges Colorado schools face and also cover how our community can become the advocacy force that our schools need. Lisa’s presentation is open to the community and I encourage those who are interested to attend.
The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Perhaps over-used and cliche, Dr. Mead’s words are certainly relevant in this context.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.