In November, Dr. Richard Ross has announced his intention to retire as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction effective December 31, 2015. With his exit date looming on the horizon it has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the type of state superintendent public education needs in Ohio. I asked the superintendents from the districts in Madison and Champaign Counties to weigh in on this discussion: what characteristics should be exhibited by the next superintendent. In proposing this list of characteristics I have no idea who should be receiving these considerations. Under rule of law it should be the State Board of Education selected the next State Superintendent; however, because over half the State School Board are political appointees it should be more accurately stated that Governor Kasich should consider these characteristics as HE appoints the next state school chief. At this writing, Dr. Lonny Rivera has been named interim State Superintendent of Public Instruction as the state Board of Education begins the formal search for Dr. Ross’s successor.
Superintendents in our area agree that the next State Superintendent of Public Instruction needs to remember his or her title: they are the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. They are not the State Superintendent of Charter Schools who give huge campaign contributions to Republican Leaders and they are not the State Superintendent of the Governor of the State. They must remain a steadfast advocate for public schools in Ohio. In this position, they need to speak out against the nonsensical reforms that have plagued public schools over the past decade. They must develop and promote their OWN reform plan which should come from an educator perspective, not the perspective of the administration or general assembly. Their reform plan should show an understanding that higher academic standards are needed for the sake of every child, but the overly aggressive and haphazard implementation of reforms in Ohio must stop. They must be willing to fight to set standards and report card expectations and then leave them in place. The new superintendent must recognize that consistency is the key to setting a good target for school districts. One superintendent in the area said it best: “I don’t care if it is high expectations, I just want it (the target) to stop moving.”’
The next State Superintendent must have strong interpersonal skills and should possess a desire to build relationships with local superintendents and their respective Boards of Education. In building that relationship the superintendent needs to recognize the challenges faced by local schools, career centers and educational service center across the state. That recognition needs to translate in a concerted effort to help us overcome those challenges rather than supporting “punitive actions” which include seeking to dismantle the entire system and rebuild into a privatized system that caters to opportunistic business leaders. It is time for a state superintendent who will build up public schools and begin sharing success stories of local school districts that are evident all across this state.
The next State Superintendent of Public Instruction MUST be at his/her very core an educator. They cannot be this freakish hybrid of educator/politician. In the end, the politician side of this combination will win out. They must be committed to public education and the children of this state they cannot be “driven by partisan politics.” Their motivation should be to satisfy the needs of our students and not the needs of Governor Kasich, his staff, or just the business community.
Once upon a time in this state, the State Superintendent was an advocate of all public schools. They were first and foremost educators with a heart for children, driven by the sole desire of improving their experience in their respective school districts. Over the past few years, particularly under the current state administration, the role of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction has eroded into the position of “The Governor’s Educational Lapdog.” It’s time for the State Board of Education to ignore partisan politics and hire an educator who advocates for public schools and the children they serve.