School change: some advice to the Commissioner

by Steve Wyckoff on September 27, 2010

I’ve never been short of  opinions or advice. And I’ve never been reluctant to share either one. Fortunately, I’m not all that sensitive, so I don’t get my feelings hurt when people ignore my advice and opinions. So I want to give the Commissioner of Education some advice.

The role of Commissioner, in the minds of most people, isn’t very well defined. So I think there’s an opportunity for our Education Commissioner, Dr. Diane DeBacker, to do something that has never been done before. Since nobody really knows what she’s supposed to do I’d advise her to take a page from the playbook of CEOs of large corporations. On a regular basis, they bring together the heads of all the divisions of their company for a discussion of the future.

She’s kind of the CEO of schools in Kansas. And if you follow the analogy a little further we have almost 300 “divisions” or as we call them, school districts.

I’d like to see her bring just the superintendent’s, no substitutes and no assistants, a couple of times a year, for some real heart-to-heart discussions about the issues we face, the possible solutions, and most importantly, the development of action plans to deal with the issues.

These wouldn’t be just a “state of education” speech opportunity, but rather a community of superintendents coming together to collaborate on building a better future for our kids. And not just once but on a regular basis!

Superintendents are an interesting group. For the most part they’ve figured out that the way to best survive is to keep their heads down, and not say anything. As I had one superintendent tell me, “Silence is always the easiest thing to defend.” I think you’ll agree that’s not a very good attitude to have for the leaders of our educational system, if we want to move our schools into the 21st century.

I know Diane well enough to know that she has a clear vision of where school should go, the ability to facilitate a large group to consensus, and the respect of superintendents around the state to pull it off. So for what it’s worth Diane, put on your best Lou Gerstner or Jack Welch persona and give ’em hell! –  Steve Wyckoff

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