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First General Session

First General Session: Reshaping Conversations about Public Schools

The public’s perception of public schools can only change if public school leaders change the way they discuss the realities and truths about public education. That was the theme of the keynote speaker and the subject of a new initiative launched at the First General Session of the 2014 Joint Annual Conference.

John Draper, a former teacher and administrator and long-time public education advocate, gave a provocative and humorous keynote speech on the differences between what people talk about and the truth regarding public education. He suggested to the audience of 1,500 that they commit to setting a positive tone, never bad-mouthing educators publicly, share positive stories about students with non-education friends, and to monitor progress, not failure.

“Think and talk about what you believe; belief is contagious,” Draper said.

Earlier in the program, a coalition of six statewide management associations showed a video announcing Vision 20/20, a “blueprint to guide educators, legislators, labor, businesses, parents and community members toward the common goal of fulfilling the promise of public education in Illinois.”

The group was introduced by Roger Eddy, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards. The video was introduced by Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators. Other sponsors include the Illinois Principals Association, the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, and the Superintendents’ Commission for the Study of Demographics and Diversity.

“We are better known for what we oppose rather than those things we’re for,” Clark said about the purpose for the initiative. “We’ve got to get back into the game.”

The Vision 20/20 video also detailed the four areas identified as education priorities: highly effective educators, 21st century learning, shared accountability, and equitable and adequate funding.

The positive message about and for public education was echoed by Tom Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association. “As owners of their local schools, people should see public schools as the community’s greatest asset,” he said. “I commend IASB and their leadership for helping people to understand the role of the school board.”

Draper continued the message and used colorful anecdotes and jokes to illustrate the fallacies of public perception about dropout rates, achievement gap, charter schools, SAT and international test scores.

He was especially critical of reports that misinterpret the cause of student achievement gaps. “Poverty is the greatest common factor of students and schools that do not meet these standards. It’s not an achievement gap. Let’s call it what it is; the poverty-learning gap.”

Regarding the media and education reform groups that emphasize international test scores, Draper noted that the U.S. has never scored well, nor does he think it should. “We don’t score as well because we are an enormous country; we teach everybody.” He also suggested that those countries that do test well tend to produce students who have lower creative aptitude and skills. “They don’t do as well on the test of life,” he claimed. “We want schools that help students to achieve balance,” or what he called “the sweet spot.”

Earlier in the session, the David Binotti Risk Management Award was presented by the Illinois School District Agency to Kewanee CUSD 229 for having an active safety committee, a regular schedule of building and grounds maintenance, administrative support, regular training and safety inspections. Awards of Distinction in the juried Educational Environments Exhibit were also presented to architects and school leaders representing school design projects completed in Decatur PSD 61, Palos Heights CHSD 218 and Lake Forest SD 67.

The First General Session, held on Friday, Nov. 21, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, was opened by IASB President Karen Fisher, who is also a member of the Ottawa THSD 140 board of education. Completing her first term as Association president, Fisher noted that many in the audience are facing re-election in their local school boards next year. “I hope that you are considering your decision to continue school board service. Or if you are not running, please encourage qualified candidates to run for your local board,” she said.

Fisher also welcomed the student color guard unit from the Phoenix Military Academy and the performance of the National Anthem by students from Grant Park CUSD 6.


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