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My Letter to NH Executive Council Members Regarding Proposed Appointee for Commissioner

January 23, 2017

As noted in an earlier blog post, NH Republican Governor Chris Sununu has nominated an inexperienced affluent businessman with no experience in public education to serve as Commissioner of Education. In my home state, the only way to block an appointment is to get a majority of the five-member Executive Council to oppose it. With the Executive Council split 3-2 with a Republican majority, it is improbable that the appointment will not go through… but… as with the case of the anti-public school legislature… silence on this issue will be perceived as assent… and so I composed and emailed the following letter and made a phone call:

Dear Executive Council Members,

I am writing to express by unequivocal opposition to the appointment of Frank Edelblut as Commissioner of Education. As a former NH Public School Superintendent of 11 years (SAU 16 from 1983-87; SAU 70 from 2004-2011), a Superintendent with 18 additional years of experience in other States, and one who has worked as a consultant for the past six years in Vermont and New Hampshire, I have a great understanding of and great appreciation for the work performed by a chief school officer in a state. I also know that overseeing a state department of education requires an in depth knowledge of how public schools are governed, how they are managed, and the challenges employees in public schools face. It is evident from what I have read about Mr. Edelblut that he possesses no knowledge of the workings of public schools. Mr. Edelblut asserts that his skills as a private businessman are transferable to overseeing a complex public agency. The experience of other businessmen with no public sector experience who take over schools shows otherwise. Mr. Edelblut also asserts that his experience as a CEO provides him with an understanding of “what kids need to be successful”. While he may know what a HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE needs to be successful IN HIS BUSINESS, I do not believe that gives him any sense of what a Kindergartner needs to be successful in Colebrook, Concord, or Contoocook.

Most troubling to me is his lack of experience in dealing with public schools as a parent. If Mr. Edelblut was a successful businessman who ALSO served on his local school board, or who attended his child’s PTA meetings or back to school nights, or who had any children who attended public school I might be open to an assertion that he has some sense of the challenges of public schools. The fact that he chose to homeschool his children instead of working with his local school board or local principal or his child’s teacher experience speaks volumes about his commitment to the cause of improving schools. Parents who are engaged in public education soon gain an appreciation for the hard work required to educate all children and find ways to improve their local schools through teamwork.

To offer another perspective on Mr. Sununu’s appointment, I’ve pasted a copy of the Lebanon Valley News editorial from Saturday, January 21 below. It eloquently expresses their concerns about Mr. Edelblut’s qualifications.

In closing I want to make certain that each of you has an appreciation for the excellent leadership Dr. Virginia Barry provided New Hampshire schools over her tenure as State Superintendent. She was an excellent communicator, a visionary leader who was willing to push back for as long and as hard as she could against the testing regimen that dominated the agenda of previous Presidents, and she developed imaginative and creative ways to personalize learning so that all children had a positive experience in school. It saddens and disappoints me to think that her work and the work of those in the understaffed State Department of Education who helped realize her vision will be pushed aside.

Thank you for giving careful consideration to the appointment of Mr. Edelblut. I urge you to reject his appointment and insist on the appointment of someone who can build on the foundation Dr. Barry and her staff have put in place.

Wayne Gersen

Etna, NH 03750

Here’s the Valley News Editorial:

EXPERIENCE ISN’T EVERYTHING, but it’s curious that the nominees for U.S. secretary of education and New Hampshire commissioner of education have so little of it. Apparently, in the minds of their Republican supporters, ideology will fill the gaps.

On the national level, Betsy DeVos, a billionaire with a history of large political donations, has faced skeptical questioning from senators who suggest she is out of touch with the realities and complexities of the department she would lead. Critics say she did not attend public schools and neither did her children. That’s no disqualifier, of course, but Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont wondered how she came to be the nominee: “Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?” De-Vos said she thought it was possible: “I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”

DeVos, who according to The Washington Post once called the public education system a “dead end,’’ has indeed been working hard — to support privatization of education, including through for-profit charter schools.

New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan, whose son has cerebral palsy, expressed concern that DeVos didn’t sufficiently understand federal laws regarding services for disabled students. DeVos said she would be “sensitive to the needs of special needs students,’’ but Hassan told her that wasn’t enough — she needs to know the intricacies of the rules and the demands of the law.

In New Hampshire, Frank Edulblut, Gov. Chris Sununu’s choice to run the $1.3 billion state Education Department, will face on-the-job training. He and his wife homeschooled their seven children, something he proudly touted in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Partly based on that experience, Edublut developed sweeping ideas for remaking public education. He wants to allow towns to spend taxpayer dollars on non-public schools, opposes the Common Core standards, and rejects federal guidance on transgender bathroom choice. He supported Croydon School Board members who resisted state orders to stop using tax dollars to pay private school tuition.

Edulblut has been successful in business — he created and sold a consulting company for what he once called “a boatload of money.” He served on his town’s Water Commission in Wilton, but not the School Board, unfortunately. Rather, he has said his business success informs his views on education. There is nothing like a day at the office to make one understand what’s happening at school.

Both Edulblut and DeVos are would-be agents of change in realms we suspect they only partly understand — and that makes them unworthy nominees. But if they are confirmed, their first priority should be to visit schools and talk to educators. If they saw some of the successes that are happening in public schools, they might not be so focused on perceived failures. We can only hope they are open to educating themselves.

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