A Few Good State Ed Chiefs

On Tuesday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced that Paul Pastorek would be stepping down as the Pelican State’s education commissioner, taking a corporate job with EADS North America.  The announcement was a big blow for Louisiana, which has done some interesting things under Pastorek, and could be an even bigger blow for the start-up Chiefs for Change, which has now lost two of its founding members.  Guess they needed to be clearer that the “change” wasn’t from the education chief job itself.

The other departing chief, of course, is Eric Smith, who will vacate the top position in Florida in a month.  And as the St. Petersburg Times details, there doesn’t seem to be a wish list of candidates for the Sunshine State yet.  Some are so desperate for names, that the Times even asked dear ol’ Eduflack to opine on who could make Florida Gov. Scott’s short list.
Undoubtedly, other states may soon be adding their names to the search list.  Louisiana or Florida could fill their jobs with a sitting state supe in another jurisdiction.  The new crop of governors, approaching six months in office, may have new ideas about where they want to go in education.  And some state supes may look to jump for a corporate job, a potential federal job, or even to get mixed up in a presidential campaign or two.
The challenge in identifying a good state education chief is knowing what to look for.  There is no textbook model to follow.  Some states go the practitioner route.  Some go the political route.  Some go the policy route.  And some others may look for that darkhorse business/lawyer/attack dog type.  It all depends on the governor’s style, the governor’s interest in the issue, and the role of education in a given state.
So after much reflection and careful consideration (essentially a few moments on a too-long redeye flight back from Los Angeles), I have humbly decided to make myself available for governors in need.  Why not Eduflack for state superintendent?  I offer the following:
* Political acumen — Having served as a senior aide to members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, and as an advisor to multiple presidential administrations and countless governors, I know how the game is played.  I know how to build relationships with the legislature and with the governor’s office.  I know how to bring value to the administration and avoid “stepping in it.”  And, most importantly, I know how to give the governor the credit, while I do the dirty work.  I even pledge to join both CCSSO and Chiefs for Change.  Added bonus, I’m already an elected official in a state with hundreds of years experience turning out terrific public servants.  And you already get to call me “the Honorable.”
* Experience with multiple camps — I’ve successfully worked with both the “status quo” and the “ed reform” crowds.  I have friends on both teams.  I can play well with the unions, while advocating for meaningful reforms.  I can focus on innovations, without turning over the keys to both sides.  I can be an honest broker, one who understands all the players in the game and maximizes their involvement in future state education activities.  Depending on how you look at it, I can either get buy-in from all, or have the trust of none.
* Content knowledge — While I have never personally been a classroom teacher, I do know a thing or two about content.  Reading instruction.  STEM.  Ed tech.  Educator quality.  High school reform.  I have real experience working in all those areas, with specific experience in developing and delivering state-level K-12 education programs.  And for those concerned with the teacher thing, I have worked as an elementary basketball coach.  That has to be worth something, right?
* The power nexus — Perhaps most importantly, I naturally work from that all important education power nexus, where research, policy, and communications meet.  I know more about education research than the average bear.  I certainly know how to translate that research and related practice into meaningful policies (and to know the difference when squishy or meaningless policies are offered in its stead).  And if I don’t know how to successfully communicate it all to key stakeholders, I certainly have a lot of explaining to do regarding the past dozen or so years of my life. 
There you have it.  Eduflack as your next chief state school officer.  Think about it, is it really any worse than some of the other names that may be floated around?  I look good on paper and give a great press conference.  I’m new and fresh (I’ll try to watch the language, though), without too much of a track record (save for this troublesome blog).  I’m not afraid to speak my mind, but I can also toe the company line.  I just might be on to something …

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