It may surprise you, but on more than one occasion, Eduflack has been asked where he gets off opining and advising on education policy and reform efforts. After all, I started my career in politics, not academia. And while I have been in education consulting for well over a decade now — helping government agencies, not-for-profits, advocacy groups, and corporations develop the strategic plans, messages, organizational positioning, and policies they need to improve public education — I’ve been trained on the proverbial ed policy streets.
I usually laugh off such questions, explaining that education improvement is not just a passion, it is embedded in my DNA. Some folks don’t quite get that. Over at This Week in Education, Alexander Russo unravels some of that education DNA. I appreciate the recognition as a edu-family, so figure I’ll provide some additional details.
In my Eduflack postings, I often make reference to my educator parents. I usually stay away from talking about the edu-wife. But now you get the whole story.
My father, Dr. Michael Riccards, spent his entire career in higher education. I grew up a higher education brat, following dear ol’ dad around the country as he served as dean of arts and sciences at University of Massachusetts at Boston, provost at Hunter College in NYC, president of St. John’s College in New Mexico, president of Shepherd University in West Virginia, and president of Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts. He also helped establish the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston and built the Robert C. Byrd Presidential Library in West Virginia. A presidential historian by trade, pappy is the author of more than a dozen books, including A Republic If You Can Keep It (a history of the foundations of the U.S. presidency) and The Ferocious Engine of Democracy, a two-volume history of the office of the presidency (which President Clinton claims to have read on Christmas break during one of his final years in the White House).
My mother, Barbara Riccards, is a career educator. A 10th grade English teacher, ma did her student teaching at St. Catherine’s Indian School in New Mexico and taught as an NEA teacher in New Mexico, West Virginia, and Massachusetts. While in the Mountain State, she was one of those teachers walking the picket lines in 1990, part of the statewide strike that led to boosts in teacher pay and improved instruction across the state. She later went on to teach in Washington, DC, leading 10th grade classrooms at Marriott Hospitality Charter High School and McKinley Tech High School. Luckily, she was never my English teacher. She had a reputation for being the toughest teacher in school. No excuses.
And edu-wife? Dr. Jennifer Riccards works in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD), running ED’s Doing What Works website (a terrific resource of best practices for educators and technical assistance providers). With an undergraduate and master’s degree from Stanford University and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, Jen has worked for the White House, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and local education non-profits. We can see who has the real education brains in the family.
And where did Dr. Jennifer get her focus? Her father is a retired superintendent in Massachusetts, having run multiple K-8 school districts simultaneously (meaning he had to answer to multiple school boards and town councils on a daily basis). He’s also a former special education teacher. And her grandfather was a former assistant superintendent for the Philadelphia Public Schools, helping lead the desegregation of the Philly schools.
So when I talk about education being in Eduflack’s DNA, I mean business. My views on higher education are shaped, in part, by my father’s life experiences. My thoughts on teachers, professional development, and incentive pay are influenced by the experiences and views of my mother. And my opinions on most education issues are filtered through my wife’s education and life experiences (though she’ll be the first to admit I appreciate her insights, but don’t often follow them).
After college, I was planning on going to grad school, hoping to follow the academic path my father had followed. I wanted to do for congressional history what he did for presidential history. He counseled me against it, advising that my personality would drive me onto the higher education administration track (like dear ol’ dad). So I set off for Capitol Hill instead. Who would have thought I’d end up where I’ve ended up all these years later.
Does that mean the edu-kids are destined for their own careers in education? Only if they really want to. Personally, I hope they pursue other paths. I hope Miggy’s current dream comes true, and my three-year-old grows up to become Batman (without the tragic loss of his parents, of course). And for my 18-month-old princesa, Anna? It’s too soon to tell, but I’m putting my chips on her becoming the first Latina governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. No pressure, though. She has a few more years to figure it out.