Why I’m Running for School Board … Again

Nearly a decade ago, I decided to run to serve on my local school board. With two young children not yet in the local schools, I wanted to use my day job focusing on school improvement to ensure that my children had the best possible public education.

That year, the voters of Falls Church, Virginia elected me to serve on the board overseeing one of the the top school districts in the nation. The work was substantial. We had to restore funding to a school system that was hit hard by the recession. We had to improve school quality, particularly with regard to online courses, in a high-achieving school district. We had to continue to ensure that every student in our community was able to take AP and IB classes — and exams — without needing to pay for it themselves. We had to increase teacher salaries during tough budgetary times. And if that wasn’t enough, we needed to launch a major capital effort — including securing federal funding to expand our middle school — while hiring a new superintendent in the middle of it all.

I was honored to work alongside the teachers, administrators, community leaders, families, and board members who made our little city the success story it was. I was fortunate to be able to serve as both vice chair and chairman of our school board. Despite all of the countless hours, the tough political battles, and the continual searches for hard-to-find educational dollars, the hardest part of the work for me was when I had to leave the board after relocating out of state for a new job opportunity.

Since my service, I have been fond of saying how serving on a local board of education was one of the toughest challenges I’ve every faced. When asked about future service, I’ve regularly said I had no intention of ever returning to such a position. After all, these days I take great pride in my work as an assistant coach on my daughter’s competitive cheer squad. That’s how I enjoy spending my fall nights now.

A few weeks ago, I began reflecting on the state of my current school community, a high-achieving school district in New Jersey. The challenges and opportunities before the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District are not unique. It’s about balancing the needs of academic achievement with those of the whole child. It is about rewarding and empowering educators when more and more demands are placed on them. It’s about properly involving parents in educational decisions. And its about ensuring all students are gaining the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their careers and lives.

So it is with renewed enthusiasm that I decided to run for a seat on our local board of education, filing my candidacy papers yesterday afternoon. Like most of the families in my community, mine moved to WW-P because of the quality of the public schools. I believe that our schools are very good … and can be even better. And I believe that my skill sets and past experiences provide me a unique position to lead that push for improvement.

As a former school board chairman for a district similar to my current community, I understand how to deal with a growing student population in smartly, ensuring that building construction and expansion is done in a financially sound way, meeting the needs without saddling the community for decades to come. I also recognize the importance of setting clear goals that are shared with the community, while holding the superintendent and all school district officials accountable for achieving those goals.

As a voice for school improvement, I understand the importance of strong inputs in our schools, and equally understand how outcomes are the ultimate measure of a school, a district, and a community.

As someone who has worked in education policy for two decades, I understand the importance of scientifically based research in school decision making, of understanding the value of assessments and the student data they derive, of how to select the best literacy programs for an ever-changing student population, and of how to ensure that technology in the classroom is used in the most effective way possible.

As a special education parent, I understand the importance of educators and parents working together, forming a team of individuals with the best interests of the student at heart.

This year, I will be the father of two middle schoolers — a seventh grader and a sixth grader. It would be far easier for me, both personally and professionally, to sit on the local schools’ sidelines, offering my thoughts via Facebook debates and the occasional blog post. It would be easier for me to focus on my professional life, my family, and my extremely limited cheer coaching abilities. But life isn’t always easy.

My children are now in the second half of their k-12 experiences. It can’t be about what is easy for me, and instead needs to be about what is best for my kids and for the many like them in the classroom. If I can help improve our schools and the pathways available to my children and their friends, then I need to take the opportunity. I cannot simply hope or wish or complain that things should be done differently. I have to step up and try to do them.

I do so recognizing that I am largely an unknown newbie in our community. Most know nothing about my work leading the National Reading Panel or the Pennsylvania STEM Initiative. They don’t know I have helped build two new graduate schools of education to better prepare teachers. They are unaware that I’ve worked to improve teacher education in five states — including New Jersey — or helped lead the most substantial education reform initiative in Connecticut’s history. They don’t know that this son of a high school teacher and a college president has spent the past 20 years fighting each and every day to improve educational access, quality, and outcomes. And that’s OK.

Over the next three months, I will spend much of my time talking to my neighbors about my background and my vision for our local schools. I will hopefully spend far more time listening than I will talking. And I will try and emphasize the importance of transparency, accountability, and community in our local schools.

If I can use the coming months to help focus on these issues and raise the level of educational discourse in our community, then I will consider it a big win. The bigger win is having my kids see me campaign hard, learning the same lessons that my educator parents instilled in me. That nothing is more important than a good education.

Let’s Not Bully #BeBest

Earlier this month, First Lady Melania Trump fulfilled a promise she made during the 2016 presidential campaign. In announcing Be Best, FLOTUS committed her bully pulpit to looking issues like cyber bullying and social-emotional learning for children.

On cue, the education community largely mocked her. But maybe, just maybe, we should give Melania a chance … particularly as we we have been looking for federal leadership on issues like SEL for quite some time.

So we explore this topic on the latest edition of TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. Maybe we can be best by giving #BeBest a chance.

What About Special Ed Parents, Mr. President?

Last month, the Trump Administration dismissed, en masse, hundreds of special education complaints filed with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

In doing so, the EdSec said they were charges without merit, as the hundreds were filed by just a handful of individuals. But in doing so, the Trump Administration demonstrates a lack of understanding of advocates in special education, while dissing the sped family community across the nation.

On the latest episode of TrumpED, we explore the topic and the chilling affect it can have on a sped community believing President Trump may have meant more, not less, respect in the public schools. Give it a listen!

Paul Ryan Reminds Us Dads Need to Explore Work/Life Balance Issues

Earlier this month, my grandmother passed away. She was 100 years, four months, and 20 days old when she left us, meaning she possessed more life knowledge than most of us can ever imagine. A week or so before her last day, I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with her. That afternoon, I had made an unscheduled stop to just see how she was doing. As I usually did, I updated her on the lives of her great grandchildren. I assured her everything was fine with me and that my wife was doing well. Just a typical visit, like those I’ve had with her for more than a decade.

As I was leaving, my grandmother looked at me and said, “you work too hard.” It’s a statement I hear often from many people all the time, so I didn’t give it much thought at that moment. But I’ve reflected quite a lot on it over the last week, as I realized that was the last thing that she ever said to me.

I brought this up in a conversation with a mentor of mine this week, noting that I hadn’t taken a vacation day in a year now, and that I hadn’t actually gone away on a vacation in almost two years. In fact, because of work demands I had missed the last three “family” vacations, leaving my wife and kids to enjoy themselves without a distracted dad.

His advice to me? Don’t look back and regret that you weren’t there to be a part of your kids growing up.

So when Paul Ryan announced he was retiring from Congress and from his position as Speaker of the House because he wants to be there for his family, I want to believe him. I, too, know what he may be feeling when he said it seems like his wife was doing 90 percent of the parenting for their children.

It’s easy to attack Speaker Ryan, and to question why he is really stepping away. Back in 2015, when Ryan’s arm was twisted to assume the speakership in the first place, he voiced concern for his ability to find the appropriate work/family balance. On cue, critics attacked him for his statements. Some saw it as a sign he wasn’t sufficiently hungry enough for one of the most powerful positions in government. And others used it to critique Ryan’s past stances on issues such as family and medical leave, the same critiques used this week when he announced his retirement for family reasons.

Maybe, just maybe, the past three years have taught Paul Ryan about the incredible strains being a national politician can have on being a husband and a father. Or maybe he’s realized that those election results he waits for every other November aren’t quite as significant in light of the development of his children and their futures.

Regardless, it is unfortunate that we see nothing wrong with questioning the motives of a man who wants to ensure he doesn’t lose focus on his family obligations, particularly after realizing he had strayed from such in recent years. When PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg preached a few years ago about the need for women to sacrifice on the personal and family front in order to be the business and career success, we applauded them for doing what it takes. Yet when a man says there is more to his personal success than his professional status, he faces scrutiny and potential ridicule.

Make no mistake, Lean In was an important lesson for those of us with daughters, particularly as we want them to see they can do anything with their lives if they set their minds to it and work hard. But it also offered a message that bought into a cultural stereotype that continues to dog men in our modern society. And it begs us to issue a national call for men to “Dive In” when it comes to our own families. It calls for more fathers to ask the types of questions and wrestle with the same issues that Paul Ryan and many men like him struggle with day in and day out.

Historically, families were positioned with fathers as the primary “professional” and mothers caring for the family. The end of the traditional nuclear family half a century ago began to change the dynamic. Single parent households and those where both parents work are now the new normal.

But the gender stereotypes from the 1950s remain. We expect the male head of household to put career and the job first. He’s still expected to be the one to work long hours. He is the one to miss family events. He is the one on his smartphone the entire time he is at a little league game or a dance recital, if he can get to them in the first place.

Lean In and the calls that have followed it are based on the notion that women can and should be just as focused on their career as men are perceived to be. That women need to recognize that they need to make sacrifices, particularly on the personal front, in order to be professional successes. Or perhaps it simply means their priorities can be just as out of whack as their male counterparts.

Instead, we should be sending the opposite message. As a society, we still marvel at that “stay-at-home” dad, viewing him largely as an oddity worth questioning. We question the motives of those fathers who volunteer in their children’s schools, holding them up as heroes for simply making the time. We doubt the motives of those men who would prefer to spend their Saturdays at the local park with their kids rather than at the golf course with their buddies. And we ridicule those like Paul Ryan who just may prefer time at home in Wisconsin with the kids, rather than on the road raising tens of millions of dollars, while trying to manage a dysfunctional Congress that grows more dysfunctional by the day.

The time is long past for us to begin to refocus America’s men on what is truly important. We regularly speak of fatherhood, without fully appreciating what it really means. Even today, we equate being a good father with the ability to financially provide for a family. Pay the rent, feed the family, and watch a movie together every Friday seems to be nomination for Father of the Year. It shouldn’t be.

It is well past time for fathers to look closely at what is truly important and focus his time and energies on what really matters. Is it easy? No. Does it require tradeoffs? Absolutely. Is it for every man? No, but it should be.

America’s fathers must stop making excuses for why we can’t be a larger part of our children’s lives and we must stop punting responsibility for our families to the women in our lives. We must spotlight those men, like Paul Ryan, who ask the right questions and make the right choices, seeking the right balance, and trying to do what is right for them and for those that truly love them.

In years past, politics used to be full of jokes about what “scandal” lurks behind a public resignation that results in a man declaring he wants to spend more time with his family. Instead, we need to start asking why more men aren’t making the same decisions. We need more men asking how much family commitment is worth sacrificing for professional success.

No, most men don’t need to lean in when it comes to work. They need to dive in when it comes to family. We need to ensure that we aren’t absentee fathers and that we don’t miss being there, really there, as our kids grow up. We need to publicly acknowledge there should be more to working fathers than a family picture on a desk. And we need to be willing to talk more, as fathers and as men, about how we struggle to find that life balance each and every day.

(The above post also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Monolos Don’t Guarantee Political (or Education) Success

Ravitch and the disciples of Ravitch are quick to condemn Teach For America (TFA). TFA is portrayed as a band of dilettantes, individuals of privilege who are seeking to inject themselves in to the schools for a few years without proper preparation or without having paid their dues. To them, the TFA badge is thrown around as a brand of unpreparedness.

Can’t the same be said of Nixon?

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest piece for The Education Post, Cynthia Nixon’s Run for Governor is Looking a Lot More Like ‘Hypocrisy in the City’

Transforming Concerned Students Into Powerful Voices of Advocacy

We are now seeing students wanting to take a greater role whether it be in elections themselves whether it be in issues like school violence. I think we’re also seeing very slowly but we’re seeing that same thing happen in education itself where we’re seeing that for centuries now whether it be our colleges or K12 systems, schools are built largely around the system, they’re built around the adults who are there to deliver the education. And we’re seeing more and more from students that the learners themselves want to be in control. They want to be the ones that decide what is best for them. It’s why you see the rise of personalized learning in schools. It’s why you see the rise in mastery based education. I think you’re seeing the same thing as students are beginning to talk about the type of atmosphere that they want. You know we’ve we’ve seen it now as students have begun to dip their toes in issues like bullying and cyber bullying. And we’re now seeing it specifically with school violence. I think the challenge to students is we have this belief that today’s students have a shiny object syndrome that they’re focused on this right now and next week they’re going to be focused on something completely different.

From Eduflack’s recent interview with Doug Simon and DS Simon Media on The Power of Social Media Live and the Modern Education System. Come for the transcript, but really just watch the video. It is far more engaging (and it shows that Eduflack doesn’t just stay in his basement)

Schools and Guns

Across the nation, students are preparing to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of the students in Parkland, Florida and their response to school shootings and gun violence. Just this morning, Eduflack received his notice from his local school district in New Jersey on how my son’s middle school (sixth grade) and daughter’s elementary school (fifth grade) will acknowledge the March 14th National School Walkout. (The edu-son will march, the edu-daughter will engage in age-appropriate activities focused on “kindness and peace.”)

For the past two weeks, I’ve used my platform over on the BAM! Radio Network to talk about the issues of guns, schools, and kids. I hope you’ll give both a listen.

In the first episode, we explore how it is well past time to declare that gun violence is a public health crisis in our schools … and in our communities.

In the second, we look at what a sad commentary it is that we are now talking about financially incentivizing teachers to be armed and weapons-trained in the classroom, particularly after doing away with so many incentives (like National Board certification) that recognized teaching excellence in those same schools.

The issue may drop off the front pages to make room for other, sexier political stories, but until the laws change — and until school shooters aren’t turned into cults of personality by the media — the issues will keep coming back.

Let’s see what comes from the National School Walkout. Perhaps these kids can lead in a way their elected leaders cannot.