The choice for the future

Thursday December 20, 2012

Consider the possibilities for a world-class education system in Vermont: a system that responds to every learners interests, aptitude and learning style in highly effective ways, a system where every child's aspirations are fulfilled.

Imagine an education system where no child falls through the cracks, a system in which every adult acts from a profound sense of obligation to all children.

Visualize a system where each student emerges as a healthy, engaged and well-prepared citizen, equipped for a lifetime of learning and productive contributions to family and community.

Recently, I asked several colleagues this question: Which is more achievable -- putting an astronaut on the moon or establishing a world-class education system for Vermont? The predictable response was we have already put a man on the moon.


Throughout America's history, when people have demonstrated tremendous commitment, great things have been achieved. In Vermont, the same is true.

The nations resolve under the Apollo space program took us to the moon. Similarly, if we are tenacious, focus our resources, and determine to have a world-class education system in Vermont, we will. It is that simple.

Well, not quite that simple. It will take extensive hard work and dedication. But we can succeed.

First, the educational and developmental well-being of children must become the central influence in every decision at every level. This will require transforming a system that is based on access for every child to one that is committed to success for every child.

The system must change from one that too often relies on standardized programs and assessments to one that responds to the uniqueness of every child. And, it must change from a system that sometimes limits the opportunities for a child to one that provides abundant opportunities within and beyond the school building.

The current system, bound by an outdated agrarian calendar, must change to one that fosters learning in every moment.

To succeed, specific steps must be taken.

School boards must exhibit laser-like focus on creating student-centered learning systems. As stewards, boards must set meaningful goals and monitor progress toward those goals. Most importantly, they must create an atmosphere conducive to retaining and attracting strong educational leaders.

Superintendents and principals must lead, make tough decisions and direct every resource towards serving all children, despite formidable challenges and too many distractions. Through perseverance, optimism and collaboration, these leaders will guide the development of responsive, nimble student-centered learning systems.

Teachers must embrace and thrive in a dynamic new model for learning and teaching. It will be more flexible, more reliant on technology and more reflective of the expertise, ingenuity and dedication of our teaching professionals. The transformation of public education is the responsibility of all -- but it is teachers who are the faces and facilitators of change.

From pre-k educators to college professors, from families to businesses, from the State Board of Education to the governor, from teachers to school boards -- everyone must own this change.

For the sake of our most precious resource, our children, and for the sake of Vermont's future, that future we all own, we must succeed. The choice for the future is ours.

"We choose to go to the moon," President Kennedy once said. "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

We can succeed.

If you doubt it, look up to the moon and recall what was achieved 43 years ago. And, while you are at it, look at the stars -- because that is the destination for our children and for theirs. Lets do our parts now to help them get there.

Jeffrey Francis is the executive director for the Vermont Superintendents Association.


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