Mike McGill, Superintendent of Scarsdale (NY) schools in his “State of the Schools Report” (.pdf) to his board last month:
Today, we’re witnessing a struggle for the soul of America’s public schools. Is education a test score or something more profound and transformative? Are we mainly interested in making schools more efficient or in providing an education that’s more effective? Are we buying a commodity or investing in the future? Is the goal to spend just enough to provide a “good enough” education according to conventional standards or to enable our youth to reach out toward their horizons, invigorate our democracy and improve the world?
More broadly, though, we live at a defining moment for public education in America. Scarsdale may not have asked to be a beacon. Nonetheless, that’s what we’ve been called to be. This community’s choices will define expectations and determine actions elsewhere in our nation and in the world. For those others who seek direction or partnership or reason or hope, we – what we aspire to be and what we do – can make all the difference.
I’ve written about Scarsdale before, but I can’t say how impressed I am with the vision that Mike articulates in this piece. Please read the whole thing. And if you haven’t yet read the overview of all of the innovations currently happening at Scarsdale (.pdf), I’d urge you to do that as well.
This is a high bar, to be sure, but education leaders at local levels need to aspire higher right now. I wonder to what extent these types of questions are being asked by other superintendents around the country. I wonder how many of them aspire to be “beacons” leading a new conversation around schooling. I wonder how many dare to innovate the way Scarsdale has instead of just resting on past “successes” as measured by traditional expectations. I wonder how many have the courage and humility to admit, as Mike does, that now, “nobody can be sure what ‘school’ should look like” and that “schools must adapt if they’re to take advantage of [technology’s] promise.”
The vision that Mike articulates in his message to his board is clear and urgent. Scarsdale has decided to lead rather than follow. My issue isn’t so much which the people in charge of our schools choose to do. My issue is when they choose to do neither.