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Vermont's Children Are Our Children

 

Vermont’s Children Are Our Children

Superintendent Bill Kimball

As superintendent for Washington Central for the past six years, and lately, I have been wondering about the collective responsibility it is to ensure equity for all of Vermont’s children?

Over the past few years, there has been legislation at the federal and state level that is placing increasing demands on our school systems.  The intent is to improve education for every child through increased personalization, better tracking of learning outcomes, improved access to multiple pathways for learning, and meaningful Pre-K education.  At the same time, Governor Scott is saying we need to lower the cost of K-12 education, while the legislature passed Act 46, requiring a reorganization of school governance structures.  Any one of these reform measures individually will take a significant effort to implement with fidelity; collectively they are overwhelming the leadership capacity of both school boards and educators.

The fundamental question is: Is our education system so broken that we need to overhaul it?  I would offer that in looking at several measures of student achievement and development we are not meeting the needs.  We have students who do not graduate and for whom school is not relevant.  I hear from our students that they need a different way to learn than the traditional classroom experience, they want more choice and voice in their education.  They want to have a voice in determining what they learn and how they will learn it.

So, who holds responsibility for the education of every child? The answer is hotly debated.   The school boards believe they have responsibility but do they have the control they seek?  Is it the Vermont state school board who are responsible for the Education Quality Standards?  Is it the legislature with the new laws enacted over the past decade, such as, Acts 46, 77, and 166? Is it our Governor with his vision to create a “cradle-to-career education” system with fewer resources than we currently spend?  And, what role do the parents play in this debate?

Vermont’s Motto is Freedom and Unity.  I believe we only achieve true freedom when we clearly express what unites us.  When systems are not transparent about what must be upheld universally, it is difficult to identify the extent of our freedoms. 

This makes me think about something a carpenter said to me when working on a project: I can build you something well, I can build you something fast, and I can build you something cheap, but you can only have two of the three.  I believe we are at similar crossroads in Vermont’s education system: we can have high-quality systems, we can have small school systems, and we can have lower cost systems, but we can only have two of the three. 

Until we share a common unifying vision for Vermont’s education system that empowers the elected and appointed educational officials to implement this vision strategically over multiple years, we will continue to be overwhelmed with diverse interests and priorities.  In building this renewed vision, we must to be willing to collectively create an opportunity to improve our educational systems in the best interest all our children, parents, and community.  We need bold leadership that is willing to bring together all the constituencies that seek to control education.  We need to put aside the politics and roll up our sleeves for our collective and common good - our kids.