Mar 28, 2012

Laser Focus On Students (Or, We'll Focus On Something Else, Actually)

StudentsFirst member Percilla Ortega taught middle school in East Palo Alto, CA before pursuing her goal to educate some of our most underserved youth on a larger scale. To take on the challenge, she founded DesignED, which works to educate students trapped in the criminal justice system.

March 23, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, Santa Clara County Board of Education Superintendent Charles Weis, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee hosted a discussion on education in San Jose as a part of the California Listening Tour - jointly sponsored by the California Mayors Education Roundtable and StudentsFirst.

The hosts began the night by describing the current state of education:
  •     Superintendent Weis described the dire need for innovation in Santa Clara County to ensure all students receive the education they deserve.
  •     Mayor Johnson described the urgency of reforming education to prepare our students to compete in a global economy, as California educates one out of every eight students in the nation.
  •     Former D.C. Schools Chancellor Rhee emphasized the level of expectations needed to put students first and reminded the community of her level of relentless commitment to transform the life trajectories of our students currently victimized by the atrocious achievement gap.
Michelle Rhee's laser focus on students - the idea that every decision and every policy must focus on what is best for the student - provided a clarifying framework for the discussion. The audience raised many topics including effective teacher retention, the importance of the social and emotional aspects of a student's development, and parent engagement. Rhee's responses demanded systematic change, requiring a need for a national movement to both close the achievement gap and to just always put students first regardless of their educational opportunities. Listening to Rhee engage with our community of students, parents, educators, politicians, and stakeholders reminded me of a quote: "Its not about what ideas and values you stand for. It's about where you stand and who you stand with." We all value excellent schools, but we must stand with the student and push for their interests as the primary focus.

Rhee inspired me to disregard the politics involved in the education reform debate and even within my own professional focus -- to educate the most underserved students in our country. I will keep Rhee's resilience as a reformer close to heart because, "Change becomes necessary when your present condition is unacceptable."

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