An African proverb speaks about the importance of embracing the wisdom of someone who is new to a place, who can see and bring fresh ideas, along with someone who may have the wisdom born out of experience, having lived through the challenges of figuring out how best to do something.
I start this school year as school superintendent for both the Southold and Greenport school systems. I welcome this opportunity to serve two wonderful school communities with the hope that our collective wisdom will lead to an enriching experience for the students, families, and taxpayers I serve.
It is no secret that as we begin this year, various challenges are evident in our daily lives. Each school year can be marked by events that allow a learning community to step outside the walls of a school in an effort to learn the authentic lessons of the day that will benefit students at any given time. The “good old days” had their share of challenges, where students, teachers and families faced unique circumstances -— both locally and globally. World War I, The Great Depression and World War II were all times when children and families witnessed and/or experienced tumultuous events.
The 2014-15 school year is no exception. Beyond events overseas in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, people everywhere seek to overcome any number of personal challenges. Certainly, the experience of school can and should be a safe haven for students of all ages.
Here, too, challenges exist.
Local school communities are challenged with navigating the ongoing assault against public education. News media accounts of failing schools and failing students and teachers blur the discussion of how we can and must work together to understand what is best for our students, our teachers and our schools. Ranking and sorting people and systems, while possibly appealing in many aspects of daily life, is not the best way to prepare our students or our schools for the future. We must welcome a “new eyes wisdom” on how to change, but also protect our “old eyes wisdom” about what works best.
Over-testing and the accompanying culture of fear is not a wise way to shape the direction for improved outcomes. These are not your grandmother’s exams, not in the scope or the volume of testing, starting as early as kindergarten. Undermining the ability of a school community to build a healthy culture for embracing a wide assortment of quality experiences in the arts, civics, history, science, math, language and physical well-being (not to mention emotional well-being) is an ill-conceived agenda for progress. Such is the current state of “reform” of education throughout New York and the nation today.
I am not suggesting that change is not the order of the day. The tools for interacting and engaging in the larger life lessons our students need when they graduate from high school have certainly changed from yesteryear. Today, we learn of events instantly instead of waiting for the morning paper. We live in an age where technology and commerce leverage the use of data to provide choices never before seen.
Think of Angie’s List, Amazon and any number of consumer products and services that we interface with each week. Regardless of how one views these changes relative to how we used to do things, establishing learning communities based on trust and respect is not incompatible with advancing the agenda for our schools. It is an overly simplistic, and false, notion to believe that schools must become “new and improved” by getting rid of “old and outmoded.”
This is an incorrect view of how we should establish policies that govern one of the most important democratic institutions of our country — the local school as a centerpiece of the community.
David Gamberg is superintendent of the Southold and Greenport school districts.