Wednesday, April 2, 2014

If we don't advocate for our students and staff, who will?

One of the most important – and perhaps little known – jobs of a superintendent is to serve as an advocate for students, especially when it comes to legislative positions related to the education field. In recent years, this role has become even more important than ever as we seek to do more with less funding, meet ever-growing government mandates and protect our students and our schools from legislation that would harm our school district and our community.

The Lee's Summit R-7 School District is a multi-faceted, complex organization with an annual all-funds budget of approximately $200 million and a workforce of close to 3,000. It requires knowledgeable and experienced staff members, supportive and involved citizens as well as an effective and collaborative Board of Education.

We are governed by local, state, and national laws, regulations and mandates that require people who are experts in many fields including education, human resources, business and finance, facility design and construction, management and leadership, communications and marketing, nutrition services and the food industry, carpentry, HVAC, public transportation, engine maintenance and repair, special education and related services, social services, physical and speech therapy, AND governance and advocacy – to name just a few.

All of this, ultimately, is my responsibility to oversee and fortunately there are great people on our team who ensure the highest level of service and success in all of the aforementioned areas.  This is not a job that can be done in isolation. It is not a job where pride in ownership can be allowed to get in the way of progress and continuous improvement.  We are a collaborative organization that provides myself, as superintendent, the ability to trust in the work and leadership of others and to focus my attention in areas that are needed.

A key area requiring the attention of a school system leader this time of year is that of legislative activities with the potential to either assist or harm pursuit of our mission to prepare each student for success in life.

This is a topic I feel strongly about and believe should be a focus of education leaders. If the superintendent of a public school system will not work with the legislature to ensure that priorities are known, who will?  Who will ensure that our legislators understand the impact of funding the foundation formula?  Who will help them understand the real story behind the new Missouri Learning Standards and R-7 curriculum and refocus them away from the “politics” of Common Core extremists?  Who will make sure they know the impact that lost revenues due to tax cuts such as those approved in a failed experiment in neighboring Kansas will have if allowed to move forward in our state before basic funding obligations are met?  And finally, who will ensure that lawmakers understand the complexities and negative impact that the current student transfer statute will have on R-7 and districts across the state if not repaired? 

Advocating for our schools is but one of the many important duties I should be performing on behalf of our community, and I do it with a sense of urgency and passion that you should demand from me. 

I hope that you will agree and join me in advocating for public policy that is focused on what is best for our schools.  If we don’t advocate for our children, who will?  Those who support tax reform at any cost, want to send public dollars to private/parochial schools, wish to see public schools become for-profit ventures, and those who have some personal agenda with no care in the world about anything but themselves -- that’s who. 

In the words of the late Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”  I know I won’t. Doing the right thing is not always popular and can occasionally bring on criticism from special-interest groups and individuals, BUT it is always right!  Thanks for all you do for the children.

Dr. David McGehee