Rick Kriesky: A tribute to the Board of Education

Rick Kriesky: A tribute to the Lexington City Schools Board of Education

Mr. Kriesky
In November, all nine members of the Lexington Board of Education will be removed from office prior to the conclusion of their current term.

The following column is an excerpt from a 2017 nationally published article by Nicholas A. Fischer, a former superintendent in three school districts and a former associate commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Education. His comments and observations are particularly relevant as they apply to the local political educational landscape.

While Fischer’s commentary is focused on the leadership of the superintendent, his message can be extrapolated to include the leadership of courageous school boards like the one that currently oversees Lexington City Schools. The current board’s difficult but student-centered decisions to redraw elementary school lines, approve a learning-based alternative calendar and support intensive teacher training in poverty and racial diversity underscore their strength, character and leadership. These are but three of the board’s many decisions that raised the ire of vocal individuals who were comfortable with the status quo.

The Lexington City Schools Board of Education exemplifies what it means to lead by example. They have not shirked their commitment to all of the children in this community in spite of tremendous political pressure to do so. This board has been unwavering in their drive to advocate for social justice and equal opportunities for all children.

Fischer’s commentary captures the essence of the board’s journey:

“Former President Barack Obama often talked about politics as ‘the art of the possible.’ This aphorism comes from the 19th-century Prussian diplomat and politician Otto von Bismarck. One way to interpret the adage is that pragmatism trumps all; in other words, when trying to steer public opinion, it is best to focus on the attainable. And, unfortunately, when it comes to our children’s education, this notion of ‘what’s possible’ is often synonymous with what is politically safe. This is a big mistake.

The education researcher Ronald Edmonds and others have shown that higher expectations are at the core of improving student behavior and achievement. This starts with changing the expectations of teachers, school leaders, and parents in a school system. This can be difficult.

Teachers and administrators can get frustrated when they are asked to change what and how they are teaching. In some cases, they even run to board members who, in turn, accuse district leaders of ‘destroying morale,’ and thereby send the message to the superintendent: If you want to keep your job, back off.

Being a controversial leader comes with a price. Compromise on vital change rarely works. School politics too often become the art of keeping your head down and preserving your retirement, but it’s our students who pay the price.

School district leaders must have a core set of beliefs that allows them to stand their ground and risk their jobs over contested decisions. Despite pushback, they’ll find constituents who are willing to support the kinds of leaders who pursue what is in the best interest of students, parents and school staff.

The function of schools is to make sure that young people have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. And a skilled leader should never fear taking a political risk when it comes to helping children become the best they can be.”

The current school board in Lexington is comprised of skilled leaders. They do not fear taking political risks when it comes to helping the district’s children become the best they can be. The positive effects of this board’s vision, passion and courage will be embodied in the lives of the children their decisions impacted for years to come.

Rick Kriesky is superintendent of Lexington City Schools.

The Dispatch