This is one of my favorite photos because it represents two important truths about those who have voice and power in the education reform world and those who don't. The voices of true education experts have been largely excluded. And that needs to change.
The four men in this photo were all invited to speak about education issues even though none of them had any significant experience teaching or leading in schools and none of them had any documented expertise in education. I was not invited to speak, and even though I crashed the party, you can see in the picture how my contributions were received by the rest of the panel.
A little background for context:
In the fall of 2013, A+ Colorado hosted The Urban High School Summit and invited leaders from Denver and Aurora Public Schools to attend. During the eight years leading up to this event, I had been the principal of William Smith High School in Aurora and we had accomplished something that had never been done before. We had successfully transformed an alternative school known as "Last Chance High" into the highest performing school in the district with no change to the demographics of our original student population, no tricky lottery games, no remediation, no pushing out kids who struggled and no emphasis on test prep.
I was invited to attend this summit. Not to speak, not to share my ideas, not to sit on the panel of national and local experts. The only reason I'm in the photo is because the man next to me noticed there were no women represented and offered to make room for one more. I'm at the table because I took him up on the offer. If you look closely at the photo you can see exactly how much room they made for me.
It's now 2021, seven years have passed and nothing has changed. I decided to run for the school board because I understand the system of our public school district. I have successfully transformed systems. I have facilitated large scale change projects where my team and I brought diverse, opposing sides together to accomplish shared goals. I know how to lead and facilitate change. I know how to run organizations. I know how to design effective strategies that result in the accomplishment of goals.
But none of this matters.
Because the school board race is about picking sides and beating your opponent. Each side insists they have the most qualified candidates, while never having actually done the analysis to make sure their claim is true. But hey, that's politics, right? The truth can be quite inconvenient when you're focused on winning.
This race will likely come down to who spent the most money and/or who created the most effective negative ads that neutralized their opposition. But any victory in this kind of race ends up being a loss for our kids. Money can buy an election but it can't buy actual leadership or ethics because candidates who possess those qualities are the least likely to run, much less win.
The school board race is set up as a zero-sum game. That means when one side loses, the other side wins. And the net change for our district is zero.
The only way to change the game is to stop playing by the old rules.