Monday, November 14, 2016

When a New President is Elected...

I was on the west coast at a conference on election day. It was very interesting to read the map on television from right to left as the results poured in. My flight left early the next morning and I knew that I would have jet lag, but I also knew that my friends would all have election lag; so we were even!

What I thought was pretty remarkable was that there was really no conversation about the presidential piece of the election the entire time I was there. The conversation centered completely around a variety (A through P to be exact!) of local propositions. As I got to my connection in Chicago and then on to Syracuse, the conversation changed like switching a radio dial from local concerns, to Trump/Clinton. It quickly made me realize that even with social media and a twenty-four hour news cycle, there truly are differences in culture, opinions, and priorities right in these same United States.

As taxpayers, you pay me to keep your children safe, provide them with the highest quality education and extracurricular experiences possible, and to have, and carry out a vision for the District. Not only to meet, but to exceed those expectations, I also have to have a good handle on "what comes next" and create plans for those things before anyone else realizes that changes may be coming.

Sometimes experience means absolutely nothing; and sometimes experience means everything. When a new president is elected, I have learned over time that there is a four-part process that needs to take place in order to keep the ship steady, make people feel as at ease as possible, and to move the organization forward.
  • The first step is to give some direction to administrators ahead of the election. That direction centers around keeping calm, watching for different student behavior, watching for employee opinions seeping into work duties, and making sure that safety plans are all reviewed in case something really off the rails happens on election day.
  • The second step is to follow the election and once the outcome is determined, read absolutely everything possible about the education platform for the successful candidate, as well as any social policy tendencies that might impact students and staff.  This includes reading material from the left, right, and center and looking for consistencies in opinions.  This also includes reviewing what the successful candidate said along the campaign trail; even if it was an offhand comment, and factoring that in as well.
School is my second home and each of my employees and students are extended family members to me. It is absolutely vital to communicate with all of our employees to let them know what to possibly expect from a new president and how prepared we are, or not, to accommodate any changes that may be coming. They can then relay that information to students as appropriate.

The last step is equally critical and takes place at the District Office. We huddle together and take a look at our budget, revenues, expected expenditures, reserves, and where retirement and pension systems have their money invested. This gives us a very clear picture of how our budget may behave for the next year if we enter a recession or boom (both have happened after past elections) and we can begin to plan for both cases right now.

Sometimes people tell me that we "make it look easy". What you just read is what goes into "making it look easy"; and that is just for the educational impact of a presidential election!

What do I think the major changes will be in education? I think there will be four major changes. 
  • I think that the US Department of Education will be disbanded, or at least heavily trimmed, so that states will have local control over education.
  • I think that many states will abolish the Common Core Learning Standards (understanding that every other major federal educational change has taken a president into a second term to accomplish). I do NOT think that New York State will abolish the Common Core Learning Standards, but I do think there will be a complete overhaul regarding assessments and the number of them.
  • I believe that President-Elect Trump will divert federal monies (and ask states to kick in as well) into a "voucher" system that will allow students in underperforming or high poverty schools to choose a higher performing school to attend. The higher performing school would receive the voucher money to cover the education and transportation expenses of those children.
  • The last major change that I think we could see is a forced competition among schools in an attempt to make schools merge or close, thereby lowering tax impact on all. This would likely be accomplished through the voucher system depleting underperforming schools and competitive grants for levels of success, which would money starve schools that have students but are underperforming.
There are other suggested changes, but these four concepts are generally agreed upon as common opinions by all political groups and pundits.

If these changes were to happen, is West Genesee prepared? Yes. We can easily survive with more local control. Between myself and several of our employees, we hold seats on influential statewide decision-making committees. Even if we didn't, our proven ability to adapt to change make me confident that we will be just fine.

We are very high performing, and our buildings can accommodate many more students.The voucher system, if funded as I have read, would bring additional diversity, both cultural, and economic, that I would welcome as we prepare students to graduate into a global melting pot.

I am not a fan of competition among schools, and I never have been. I do think though that we all need to do more to consolidate services, and find a way to get opportunities to students in less fortunate settings.

The elephant in the room is how the new administration will treat ALL people moving forward.We have worked incredibly hard over the past nine years  to change the culture of our District and community to be accepting of everyone. Our LGBT club has never been larger, our Culture Fair is well attended, and a true testament of how well EVERYONE gets along in our community, and ALL of our staff feel comfortable in their own skin; and are supported from the top down.  

There are stakes in the sand that we sometimes plant, and this is one of them for me personally. I am not a republican or a democrat and issues of humanity should not be republican or democratic issues anyway, in my opinion. I will FIERCELY defend the rights of ALL of our students and staff, just as I have had to do at times during the Obama Presidency. I, and our schools, are safe zones for ALL. Bottom line.

Now for something fun and lighter. The "Mannequin Challenge" started in early October as internet videos that have become viral. They are done purely for fun and feature people who "freeze" doing normal things while they are recorded. Some of our own students produced a couple of videos that are getting a lot of views on Twitter. Enjoy this one and the week!