St. Johnsbury (VT) School Board Member’s Op Ed Piece Captures Spirit of Democracy
Regular readers of this blog know that I am distressed over the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education and equally distressed over Frank Edelblut, the NH nominee for Commissioner of Education. Both of these individuals view public education as a commodity and seek to introduce “market forces” in an effort to “reform” schools. But making public education into a marketplace will ultimately lead to the demise of one of America’s great democratic institutions: the local school board.
For the past three years I’ve spent many hours working as a consultant with school districts in Vermont as they struggle to find ways to consolidate. During the time and throughout my 29 years as a Superintendent and six years as a building level administrator, I’ve been impressed with the commitment and dedication of locally elected school board members. While I’ve not seen eye-to-eye with Board members on every issue we’ve faced, I’ve never felt that any of them wanted to compromise the quality of education— even those who wanted to see less spending or fewer “frills”. I’ve wanted to capture the spirit of a “typical” school board member in this blog, and on Wednesday I read an op ed piece in the Caledonian Record by a Saint Johnsbury, VT Board member that seems to do the trick better than I could. Christopher Wenger, a relocated Bostonian, describes the factors that led him to seek a board position and the role he intends to play as a board member overseeing Saint Johnsbury’s K-8 school that serves his children and scores of others in his small town. Here are the concluding sentences to his piece:
I decided to run for the school board in 2016, and I can definitely say that it has been a labor of love. “Why are you doing that?” asked several friends. “It’s a thankless job,” I heard over and over. Well I can tell you, over the last year, I have found this job anything but thankless. In fact, I have been thanked by many people in the community—people who care for this town, for its children, and for its future.
This job is not without challenges, of course. In the past year I feel like I’ve learned a lot, but I also feel it’s just the beginning. There are amazing things happening at St. J. School—things I wish more people knew about. The biggest priorities for me in the coming year are to try to get more members of the community involved, and to learn to work more effectively as a board. So please, come to a meeting. Come to a school event. Stop me in the supermarket and I’ll be happy to tell you what I feel both the strengths and the challenges are in this district. Invest some time in learning about the school; your interest and involvement will pay dividends for all of us in the long term. We need to move past the headlines, engage with, and listen to one another in order to make things better. I look forward to continuing to serve you in this role.
Like the hundreds of School Board members I’ve worked with, Mr. Wenger is desperately seeking public engagement, intent on championing the public schools in his community, and intent on making improvements. Read the last sentences and ask yourself: would Betsy DeVos set foot in a supermarket to seek feedback? Would either Ms. DeVos or Mr. Edelblut, neither of whom ever sent their children to a public school, ever say “amazing things are happening” in their public school? Are either Ms. DeVos or Mr. Edelblut interested in keeping democracy alive by helping Board members like Mr. Wenger achieve his goals?