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‘This I Believe’

Posted: August 15, 2014 9:31 a.m.
Updated: August 18, 2014 6:00 a.m.

For the past couple of years, our district has designated one book for summer reading for secondary students. I’ve really liked this approach. It has generated a lot of enthusiasm and gotten entire families involved. This year’s book, This I Believe II, is a collection of personal essays by a very diverse group of people, ranging from legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma to author Studs Terkel. The book got me to thinking; if I was to write an essay about what I believe about education, what would I say?

Seems like a pretty appropriate thing to do at the dawn of a new school year….

First and foremost, I believe that education is the most important factor contributing to the success and well-being of every person. Education opens economic doors for individuals and for the larger community. There is less crime and less need for publicly-funded human services in a well-educated community. Well-educated communities have fewer chronic health problems. Education is still the great equalizer and serves as a strong barrier against many social problems. Education is an investment that has always yielded a significant positive return. I am very worried that many of our leaders, who should know better, see education as a drain on resources versus an investment. I wonder how this happened.

I believe education must keep pace with a changing world. We live in a world where very fast change is the norm. The way phone technology has changed almost overnight is symbolic of the pace of change. We’re educating kids for a workplace and a society that does not exist today. I once heard a speaker say that “Schools have to prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented and problems that we don’t know will arise.” I think this sentiment holds truer than ever today. It’s natural for us to want our own school experience replicated for our own kids. It’s just not realistic to think that our experience will get them where they need to be 10, 20, 30 or 40 years from now.

Finally, I believe that the effectiveness of the classroom teacher is and always has been the most crucial factor in student learning. For this reason, I believe that the teaching profession in our country must be upgraded in terms of status, compensation, preparation and professional development. I’d like to elaborate on this a little because I think it’s that important.

I hear a lot of political rhetoric about the need to attract and retain “the best and the brightest” into teaching. What I don’t see is the funding to support the salaries and other areas necessary to do so. An individual who started teaching in 2008 when the economy went south has barely kept up with inflation. How is this going to attract the people we want in classrooms? This is an election year in our state, so there will undoubtedly be a lot of candidate rhetoric paid to the importance of teachers. I wonder if the rhetoric will be backed up with dollars after the votes are cast.

Teacher preparation in our country is haphazard and inconsistent. For example, reading instruction is the most important academic skill taught in the early grades, but elementary teachers often have relatively minimal collegiate preparation in reading instruction and have to more or less learn on the job. Student teaching is critical, but far too condensed for a beginning teacher to get adequate supervised experience in both how to teach and how to manage a classroom. Longer-term paid internships would pay for themselves over time through increased teacher retention and overall effectiveness. Internships would also be tremendous professional growth experience for the veteran teachers supervising them.

Ongoing professional development for teachers requires more systematic attention. Obviously, taking teachers out of classrooms for professional development creates difficulties. If I had my way, teacher contracts would be at least five paid days longer to provide out-of-classroom time for training. We have to stop looking at teacher professional development as an afterthought. Any other profession views continued learning as a necessity. Why shouldn’t teaching professionals afforded be the same status?

On July 1, I began my 40th year in this wonderful and fulfilling profession. It seems like just yesterday that I walked into my first classroom in Richmond, Va. I am thankful each and every day for having been led to this career and for the young people, colleagues and countless others I have encountered along the way.

Let’s have a great school year!

I’m always pleased to talk with community members about our schools. The district phone number is 432-8416 and my email is Citizens can contact me through the “Ask the Super” link on the homepage of the district Website. I also invite folks to read my “blog” and listen to the podcast I record after each school board meeting with meeting highlights. Both of these, and a whole lot more, can be accessed on our award-winning website,


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