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An Open Letter to the Governor…

April 6, 2010

Dear Governor Culver;

We stand at the edge of a monumental shift in education.  The world around us is changing at an exponential rate.  All sectors of life are in flux in a way and at a rate not before seen.  One needs only look at data related to economic and employment trends to see that the world future generations will live and work in is fundamentally different than the world of the past.

Iowa has long prided itself on its strong tradition of innovation and the “can do” spirit that seems to come naturally here.  We have created one of the strongest public education systems ever seen.  This system has successfully prepared many generations of Iowans to live, work, and thrive.  We are rightly proud of the educational heritage of this state.  However the world is changing.  Our students today are not asked to compete with students in neighboring towns, states, or even the nation.  We are knee-deep in a global economy in which we are drastically outnumbered.  The top 25% of students in China outnumber the total number of students in the United States.  In this competition, we are vastly outnumbered.  We are the underdogs.  It is a position we have been in before as Americans and specifically as Iowans.

The selection of our next Director of the Department of Education could not be more critical or come at a more historically significant juncture.  To liken our educational structure to the military, we are looking for a new Commanding General.  As one of the proud troops dedicated to carrying out this mission I would like to ask for a three things as you search for our next commander.

  1. Find us a visionary – As mentioned above, the world is changing at exponential speed.  If we expect to fulfill our mission of preparing students for it, we must change too.  The industrial model used to sort students and send most into agricultural and industrial production of goods does not work in a state where less than 15% of available jobs are in manufacturing and more than 50% of recent job losses fall under the same category.  We need a leader that will recognize and understand this game-changing shift in the world and make the case for change in our schools.
  2. Find us a uniter – We live in a divided world.  Politically, socially, and economically we are fractured.  In tough times division is common.  As administrators and boards try to cut costs to fit shrinking budgets, teachers worry about cuts and reduced incomes, and communities brace for increased taxes, division grows.  We need a leader that can rally us around our common cause.  A true director of education that collaborates, listens, and leads ALL stakeholders toward the goal.
  3. Find us a leader – A famous general once said “You can’t lead from behind.”  Too often I fear the DE has done just that.  Individual schools are making great strides in innovation.  In some cases groups of like minded schools have banded together to further the cause of innovation in our state.  As an example, on April 7th many of these schools will meet in Des Moines for the states first annual 1:1 conference.  These schools believe in the power of giving each student a laptop computer and are realizing the fruits of this commitment.   As I peruse the list of presenters and sessions I see schools spanning the length and breadth of this great state.  What I also see is the notable absence of the Department of Education.  Like any great general, our next director needs to understand that you can’t lead from behind.  My hope is that when I attend the Second Annual 1:1 Institute next April, I can attend a session sponsored by the department and maybe even rub elbows with our new director.

In conclusion, I could not be more proud to do my part to further the educational mission of this state.  Every day I am reminded of the thousands of talented and committed people who show up early and stay late doing the exact same thing.  We have devoted our time, creativity, and energy to this cause.  We implore you to find a leader that will do the same.  One that can create, sustain, and communicate a common vision for our schools that is progressive, responsive, and innovative.  We realize it is a tall order and in order to fill the bill you will need to find an educator and leader of the highest caliber.  That is exactly what we expect.  The children of this state deserve no less than the best.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 2:18 am

    I would add one thing…Find a replacement soon.

    Don’t allow the pace of bureaucracy to slow down innovation in the state. The Des Moines register reported the Culver is going to wait to make his appointment. We can’t afford to fall behind.

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