Opinion: Pick of Education Secretary is critical

This week’s writer is Jeanné Collins, president-elect of the Vermont School Superintendents Association and superintendent of Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union.
Vermont’s local school officials are being asked to lead in a time of significant challenge and dramatic change. School leaders are inspired by the important work of creating effective, equitable learning opportunities responsive to the aspirations and aptitudes of every student.
The task of leading in an era of declining enrollment, expanding societal needs, an often contentious political environment, tight fiscal resources and growing concerns about the security of our schools strains even the most-well equipped and experienced school officials.
Vermont’s school leaders have responded admirably and will continue to do so.
Local education officials have answered Gov. Scott’s call for fiscal restraint by delivering budgets well-below the targets established by his Administration.
Many school boards, administrators and communities have responded to the opportunities created by Act 46 and are finding operating efficiencies and greater equity in student offerings.
Local school officials have been challenged to keep pace with all of the predictable, regular work they face while contending with unforeseen and unexpected tasks resulting from national events, threats to school security and a society that is seemingly becoming less united.
These pressures show no signs of abating.
Legislation under consideration by the General Assembly would revamp the education funding formula, modify the funding and practice for delivering special education services, and alter, once more, the system for providing PreK education. In addition, the Legislature is working on an expansive array of less prominent bills that would add requirements on schools and make providing education more complex. Obligations for our public schools are added every year.
Political leaders, and communities, please take note. It is a challenging time to be a school leader. Please take special note. Local school officials are holding up their end of the bargain.
Following former Education Secretary Holcombe’s resignation, there was an immediate focus on the qualifications necessary for Vermont’s next Education Secretary. The law is clear that the secretary must possess extensive education leadership experience and Gov. Scott has signaled his recognition of this requirement.
Vermont’s education system relies on collaboration by the governor, the General Assembly, the State Board of Education, the Agency of Education and, most significantly, local school communities served by school boards and the administrators with whom they work. The Secretary of Education must have the skills to guide that collaboration. It is a responsibility that will challenge the most adept secretary, and one that cannot be accomplished without a deep understanding of what is required and what is at stake.
Vermont’s next Education Secretary must possess the highest level of credibility with the governor, the State Board, the General Assembly and, very importantly, local school communities. The challenges are too great, and the stakes too high, to attempt to move ahead without a leader who enjoys the full confidence of all the necessary partners.
Times call for a skilled navigator, collaborator and leader who will be effective in moving the State and its system of public education forward in a manner that genuinely helps all of us successfully accomplish the work that lies ahead.
Times call for an education secretary who understands the importance of responding to the learning needs of every student; who understands that public education is foundational to a strong and prospering society; and who acknowledges, most especially, that we are all in this together.

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