Utah state school board members, take a deep breath, don’t feel rushed. You have an opportunity to renew public education for the 21st century and beyond. So, take the time and don’t be pressured by political or special-interest groups.
And don’t hurry to hire a new superintendent until you have created a vision for Utah’s public education. Then, select the person that can execute the vision consistent with your core values. All too often, boards first select an executive that does not share the organization’s vision, thus creating needless conflict. Remember, constitutionally, you are responsible for the “general control and supervision” over public education. Don’t let anyone do your job.
Your superintendent is supposed to execute your vision and policies. In making your selection, look for the two things John W. Gardner suggested in selecting an executive: “good taste and good judgment, everything else you can buy by the yard.” You already have education professionals who can provide technical advice and implement board policies.
The value of a citizens’ board is that you come from diverse experiences, not as “experts.” You have fresh eyes allowing you to retool education to deal with current problems, rather than yesterday’s outdated ideas that “experts” feel compelled to defend. It’s a new, fast-changing and interconnected world, where doing more of the same is a recipe for failure.
If this board is to renew public education for a new economy, then it must act boldly and have confidence in itself. Do what made you all succeed in life and in your commitment to public service. You have the power to renew education for the new world our students will face and for jobs yet to be created. The currency for the new economy calls for higher skills, innovation, creativity, imagination and the ability to be constant learners.
The renewing process starts with board members taking the time to review how the world has changed, the internal and external forces triggering change, and renewing its mission (constitutional mandate), to respond to those changes. The board must create its core values that will guide its decisions. This will allow the board to create a vision of what public education “ought” to be for the 21st century, instead of first seeing what others have done — or are doing. When leaders act with confidence, they inspire others.
Only after the board has created a vision should it select the superintendent who shares the same values and is able to carry out a shared vision. The board should establish a reporting and monitoring system that will oversee the organization, that allows for clear direction and creates confidence and trust in its employees.
We have been warned for decades that our education system needed to change to meet a changing economy. Yet, elected leaders lack the will to renew it. Our governor and legislators continue to use studies, commissions and task forces to make cosmetic changes and call upon the usual “experts” to give the appearance they care. However, none seems to have the courage to offer a vision for education; and then often blame the school board for our faltering schools. They had their chance to make change; now, they need to step aside and let the school board do what it is mandated to do — renew education so it can prepare our students for a world that keeps changing exponentially.
School board members, take a deep breath, create your vision, and take your time to get it right for the sake of our children.
Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast