A Wakeup Call for School Leaders

By Diann Woodard

What do you say after an election night like November 4th? We lost. As a matter of fact, some have called it “a bloodbath.”  A bloodbath that has us looking at each other wondering how did this happen?


But was it really a surprise? Since the 2008 Presidential election, we have been searching to fulfill our mandate for change, a mandate that promised to give families a share of the nation’s prosperity and the hope that there would be employment for all.


Almost as quickly as that election was over the dream evaporated. No one wanted to talk about how to achieve full employment and expanded opportunities for all. Instead, the new agenda was set by focusing on issues that had no real solutions but lent themselves to lots of rhetoric.


“Reformers” began cropping up everywhere, from charter cheerleaders to common core advocates, funded by the wealthy, telling us that the United States was not able to supply businesses with quality workers because the current students lacked the skills needed to compete in today’s marketplace.


As educators, we remained relatively silent, waiting to see how this was going to develop because we understood that we were falling short of our goals for the children we serve, but for totally different reasons than those being voiced by our critics. We let the so-called reformers flood the public with their propaganda that our children were unprepared and we allowed them to place the blame on us.


Teachers and their unions became the reason why Johnny/Jane can’t read  – despite the fact that the states with the highest test scores had unionized educators and those with the lowest had no unions whatsoever.


Educators were deemed incompetent and unwilling to change because they were only concerned about themselves. Sadly, much of our time was spent on defending rather than proactively defining ourselves and our goals for the nation’s children.


The idea painted by the so-called reformers was that we were obstructionists trying to hold onto the status quo, propaganda that stuck because we did nothing but try to deny the claim rather than assert for parents who we are and what the agenda should be for their children.


As a result, private interests in the guise of reformers have made it acceptable to prostitute the concept of education for all, and earn money on the state and its children through voucher programs, charters, profit-driven textbook and technology sales, and ceaseless testing, privatization initiatives that have succeeded in large part because educators have done little to show why our professions are essential – not expendable commodities.


Watching the midterm election results, it was amazing to see voters in state after state choose the party whose message, right or wrong, forced their more progressive opponents onto defense rather than articulating the core values of education and prosperity for all.


These circumstances bring us to today’s aftermath of the midterm elections. So, yes, we share responsibility for the loss with those we supported because we have never been able to establish for the public that we know what is best for the nation’s children and thus gain its confidence.


In the wake of this defeat, the words of gospel singer Donnie McClurken ring in my ears: “What do you do when you’ve done all you can and it seems like it’s never enough?  YOU STAND!”


Yes, colleagues, we must stand. But it is not enough for us to stand and complain. Standing means articulating what we want to achieve for our students, and how to achieve it. We can no longer afford simply to react to what is happening to us. We must start to take control of the debate about what is needed to turn around our schools.


This is not the time to isolate ourselves in our individual schools and think that everything is fine because some of us here or there may be doing well.


We are educators. Many of us have multiple degrees and varied experiences. It is inconceivable that we don’t know how to take control of the message and


reclaim our destiny. And that begins with speaking out about what it takes to produce college and career-ready students. We must talk to our communities and business partners about what is right for our schools. We need to share our successes with the public and with each other, and we need to network and mentor other school leaders.


As school leaders we need to 1) set the education agenda; 2) assert our professional role as community leaders who accept responsibility for educating and informing the public; and, 3) be bold in our willingness to make the unpopular decisions necessary for the success of the children and our school communities.


If we take these steps to reestablish ourselves as the preeminent authority on what it takes to turn around schools and to develop quality graduates, in years to come we will not look back at this election as a defeat, but rather as a wakeup call that reminded us to forge ahead on the “road less traveled,” a road on which we will have been the driving force in making the difference for the children of our public schools who need our leadership more than ever.

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