Area educators and School of Education graduate students gathered at UAlbany’s School of Public Health on February 2nd for the annual District Superintendents Panel. Gladys Cruz of Questar III BOCES, John Yagielski of Capital Region BOCES, James Dexter of WSWHWE BOCES and Patrick Michel of HFM BOCES comprised this year’s panel. The program was moderated by CASDA Executive Director Dr. James Butterworth who guided the discussion through a wide range of important education policy and practice issues.
Dr. Butterworth opened the program by asking the panel to analyze how the new national administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos might impact state and local education policy. Gladys Cruz responded that the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act “gives more control to state and local policy makers.” Patrick Michel stated that he does not think that the President “has any interest in federal education policy.” The panelists generally agreed that while Trump and DeVos may pursue a market-driven, school choice agenda, the passage of ESSA will largely limit federal intervention in education policy for the foreseeable future.
The discussion continued with the panelists’ impressions of Governor Cuomo’s state budget proposal. Capital Region BOCES Superintendent John Yagielski shared his assessment that intense focus on State Aid funding keeps educators engaged in “fighting the old war,” rather than rethinking how schools can best serve students. Jim Dexter echoed this sentiment, arguing that any debate about funding, testing, standards and accountability must proceed from the perspective of how these concerns impact students. As panelists discussed the legacy of No Child Left Behind and the numerous problems it created for school districts, Mr. Dexter stated that “despite its problems, No Child Left Behind made us notice and take care of kids that slipped through the cracks of the system for years.”
This lively panel illuminated the struggles facing public education as an institution in America and explored the challenges educators will face in the future. Pat Michel, noting the increasing availability of effective, high quality education software modules for homeschooling, stated that if public education fails to evolve it “will only serve students who have no other options.” Dr. Butterworth summarized the spirit of the conversation in his concluding comments stating that as public education, like so many social institutions stands at a crossroads, dedicated educators must seek solutions that serve the needs of all students.