Dear Mr. President,
Today, Vice President Mike Pence cast his tie-breaking vote to affirm the nomination of Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. As you are aware, her nomination and now confirmation have raised many concerns and questions about your administration’s plans for public education. Those senators who stood with you during this confirmation process have openly criticized failing public school systems. Vice President Pence today spoke of public schools that are satisfied with the status quo. In the past, my state’s own governor has gone out of his way to criticize public school teachers who do nothing but sit around all day and complain in the teachers’ lounge. I hear pundits in the media refer to the top-heavy bureaucracy of public school systems. A local radio talk show host often refers to public school teachers and administrators as “educrats” insinuating that there are more political and self-serving motives behind the work of public schools than the real work of educating children.
I am an elementary school principal in rural southwest Ohio. My school district’s “bureaucracy” consists of a superintendent, a special education coordinator, a curriculum/testing coordinator, and four building principals. We have a counselor at our high school and one at our middle school, but budget cuts took away the one counselor that the two elementary schools shared. The four buildings share one school nurse who is in the district just three days each week. The schools in my district and in our region are full of well-educated, hard-working men and women who want nothing more than to see all of our students achieve and succeed. Our students’ parents send us their very best, and we are honored to serve their families.
Throughout Secretary DeVos’s confirmation process, I have heard a lot about our nation’s broken schools. I agree. Our schools are broken. They are broken because our schools’ most precious and important resource, our families, are broken. The rural communities in my school’s region were ravaged by the loss of key businesses ten years ago. Their departure meant unemployment and financial crisis for our families. Law enforcement officials tell us that the heroin epidemic has terrorized our region as badly as any other area in the state. In my eight years at my school, I have seen referrals to child protective services multiply. Our state’s assessment data tells us that many of our students are coming to school with very little, if any, reading readiness skills. It is difficult to teach a five-year-old how to read when he knows no letters and has trouble speaking in intelligible phrases. Math is the farthest thing on a dirty and hungry third grader’s mind. Watching a parent take drugs every day and living in fear of physical abuse is not a conducive environment for a fifth grader to do her homework. While these situations exist in every school district, there is little doubt that families in our area and in areas who wrestle with these same issues experience much more than their fair share.
My staff works hard to make sure that our students are fed and clothed. We have a part-time family advocate who tries to connect families to county resources so that they can get their light bills paid and gas in their cars so that they can get their kids to medical appointments. Yet somehow we are viewed as lazy and indifferent toward the low achievement scores that our students earn on state tests. We are far from lazy and we are certainly not indifferent when it comes to the success of our students. We strive to provide the very best instruction so that our students can become their very best. It is absurd, disheartening, and insulting to hear that many of our country’s elected officials believe that our students are not performing well academically because our system is broken and we’re okay with it.
I hope that you, Vice President Pence, and Secretary DeVos will spend some time with us and schools like us so that you can see firsthand the great things that are happening in our country’s public schools…in spite of what our annual state report card might tell you. It would be my honor and privilege to host a visit by you and members of your team so that you can also see firsthand how important our mission is to us and the 600-plus districts in our great state. I hope that you will listen to us and our families and hear what is right and good with our public schools. Most of all, I hope that you will commit energy and resources to the real root of the problem- our broken families and their real struggles.
Many Ohioans hoped that Senator Rob Portman would cast a dissenting vote against Secretary DeVos. In his defense, he posted on his Facebook that Secretary DeVos’s comments supporting state and local control, Career and Tech Education, and students with disabilities resonated with him. Those same themes are important to many families and public educators. I hope that this is the common ground on which we can all work together for our students.
My school district is filled with families who proudly displayed Trump and Pence signs and flags in their yards during this past election season. Many still have not taken them down. They have grown weary of government that doesn’t seem to listen to them or understand their needs. So they, along with millions of other Americans, tore up the blueprint for politics and elected you to represent them. I understand that education is one of many, many bullet points on your agenda. However, I hope that you will not forget how important it is to the families who send their students to our country’s tremendous public schools.
Please know that I pray for you and our country’s leaders every day, and I wish you nothing but success. Your successes as President are our successes as Americans.