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Op Ed: Education Chief Most Effective As CommunicatorHenry Clay Ruark Salem-News.com
21st Century Changes Demand Broad New Approaches.
(EUGENE, Ore.) - On May 18 Oregon must choose its Superintendent of Education. There are two fine candidates this time for the most essential leader charged with directing and further developing the most essential public service we enjoy. One has already “been there, done that”.
The other seeks “make do with less” for a system now becoming notorious for its obvious current short-fall in some few schools. Susan Castillo, the incumbent, comes from the real world of communications, with background beginning with the everyday realities of life at every level, reported reliably and with practical understandings reflected for citizens needing to know for democratic decisions.
Many persons, both within the educational system and generally in our culture, will agree that broad exposure to life-as-lived --and its inherent realistic difficulties-- is more valuable even than the finest of professional preparations in schools of education.
One cannot get better preparation for real life and its inherent difficulties and demanded decisions than by being a news-reporter, sharing those experiences rapidly with strong-minded readers who often respond. (Disclosure: Mine own “checkered career”, mostly by chance, straddles both sides of this reality.) Ron Maurer, albeit prepared for an educational career (Ph.D./N.Ill. U.) spent nine years as an Army officer, administering healthcare in hospital.
He and his wife operated a Rogue River health clinic until this year. On healthcare, he is thus eminently qualified. But he seeks the post of responsibility to prepare Oregon education for all developments that must prevail for the 21st Century. They share legislative experience: Castillo in the Oregon Senate and Maurer in the House.
Maurer is Republican, “small-government, distinctly conservative”, and described as both thoughtful and pragmatic, seeking “to do more with less” funding. Castillo, in a second practical-experience/providing term, facing the destructive impacts of Oregon’s long refusal to build a stable system of state educational funding and the tremendous resulting pressures on every local school district, has intimate knowledge already for what must be done.
She has had two full terms to “learn on-the-job” about the daunting realities every local school board must face these days --sure to continue for at least another term-in-office here. “Learning is best accomplished by Doing” is one strongly-established standard for educational evaluation. Castillo passes that test with flying colors, on the flat fact of past experience and ongoing accomplishment in her current term.
The shaping reality of voter choice here is the inescapable fact that Oregon’s chief educational officer, the Superintendent of Education, does NOT and CANNOT control school policy, finance, OR practices. That remains --as it probably should-- the role and responsibility of the Legislature, the State Board of Education, and the local school districts.
The further/flat-fact is that they must also bear full responsibilities for the outcomes within Oregon’s system. What remains as massive, motivating, shaping and directing power for the Superintendent is the overall supervision of the entire system, to make the most of what the Legislature (and the voters !) DO provide. THAT, friends, is a complex and entirely compelling communications-assignment.
Castillo has spent two full terms in often-painful and always-demanding direct contact with the realities in Oregon’s educational system today. The skills of communication, closely related and most effective in the role of the insightful, sensitive and sensible teacher, is what this office clearly demands.
She needs no newly-begun “learning curve” to teach her what the system now MUST have --if we are ever to have hope for the schools of tomorrow to shape our learners today. “Making do with less”, when our Oregon educational system is already deprived and distressed, will never ever either maintain what we have OR prepare our learners for the already-arrived 21st Century.
What voters can expect from Castillo is even more entirely practical, extremely insightful, and exceptional, detailed development of what more modern educational opportunity may be possible --by whatever means.
Her recent leadership in applying Internet software to assist students in becoming digitally literate, while at the same time saving money for school districts, is an apt demonsration of what’s truly needed NOW. The Google-developed web-based application is furnished free; the savings to districts is estimated at $1.5 million yearly for e-mail, with additional savings for software upgrade no longer needed.
Google has a large data-center operation based in The Dalles. Oregon is the first state to arrange for use of the application statewide.
What this software does is indicative of what’s to come: “This is a way for students to prepare for the workplace by using workplace technology in the classroom,” Department spokesperson Susanne Smith stated. Included are filtered e-mail; online documentation; website creation; streaming media; and other essential applications.
Users can collaborate in real time, using online software and Google for data storage and management. This and other new technological advances are strengthening, extending and multiplying the role of the “virtual classroom” and “virtual school”, right at the time when the classic community-centered institution finds itself facing painful outmoding and further degeneration via lack of rational, reasonable funding. Our whole world is roiling, boiling with massive new demands on every citizen. The fate of our “democratic experiment” depends on what and how we now teach our children.
So our educational system --charged with complex responsibilities to prepare rising generations-- must now reflect those rapid, radical, irresistible new needs and inevitable demands --in every pragmatic aspect of every-teacher planning, practice, performance and full proof-of-learning, for every child in our nation. The best of the past-practices must be skillfully and carefully combined and both strengthened and extended by what the world now offers us. Truly, we can no longer afford to Leave No Child Behind.
BUT we must make sure what we do is strongly positive, providing both the personal rewards of learning accomplishments and the pain of consequential “failures” to be remedied by still-further learning opportunities. THAT, too, is “communication” in most fundamental application, demanding a skilled, practiced, pragmatic communication effort and its communicator.
We must be completely sure the system is now perfected --completely freed of denial, delay and that personal deep-defeat which arises from frustrating the learner. More than two centuries of educational achievement in our nation furnish the foundations for what the world has long seen as the leading demonstration of what our governance system can accomplish. Despite sometimes distressing and sometimes even frustrating results --most often due to lack of truly demanded resources rather than any management failures-- our sysems nationally have done remarkably well for us, as our mutual accomplishments surely prove every day. But this IS the 21st Century NOW !!
What worked ‘back then” and what can now be continued by the best of rational and reasonable further development must now depend on a new level of leadership. That level of achievement hangs heavily on the skills of commuication to provide “the public” with true and tested understandings and appreciations.
At 21, Henry Clay Ruark was Aroostook Editor for the Bangor, Maine DAILY NEWS, covering the upper 1/4 of the state. In the ‘40s, he was Staff Correspondent, then New England Wires Editor at United Press-Boston; later Editor for the Burlington, Vermont 3-daily group owned by Wm. Loeb, later notorious at Manchester, New Hampshire UNION LEADER for attacks on Democratic Presidential candidates.
Hank returned to Oregon to complete M. Ed. degree at OSU, went on to Indiana University for Ed.D. (abd) and special other course-work; was selected as first Information Director for NAVA in Washington, D.C.; helped write sections of NDEA, first Act to supply math, science, foreign language consultants to state depts. of education; joined Oregon Dept. of Education, where he served as NDEA administrator/Learning Media Consultant for ten years.
He joined Dr. Amo DeBernardis at PCC, helping establish, extend programs, facilities, Oregon/national public relations; moved to Chicago as Editor/Publisher of oldest educational-AV journal, reformed as AV GUIDE Magazine; then established and operated Learning Media Associates as general communications consultant group. Due to wife’s illness, he returned to Oregon in 1981, semi-retired, and has continued writing intermittently ever since, joining S-N in 2004. His Op Eds now total over 560 written since then.
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