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Voices: Leadership matters, resources matter

The newly-elected president of the Colorado Association of School Executives, Lisa Escárcega, argues strong leadership and adequate resources will be key to successfully implementing the challenges of the coming school year.

If ever leadership and resources mattered for public education in Colorado, it is now.

As we look to the new school year, a number of high-profile education reform initiatives will come into focus, testing our abilities, resolve and resources as we scale-up implementation of school readiness, early literacy, Colorado Academic Standards, new online assessments and educator effectiveness.

Any one of these initiatives could have significant impact on student achievement, and taken together, create a real risk for “implementation fatigue.” If we don’t take the proper steps to prepare ourselves for the work ahead, we could see these great initiatives skip along the surface with little or no impact.

How do we address the needs of our ultimate stakeholders, our students, in the current state education climate? What matters most? Which of the many initiatives being implemented should we prioritize and focus on? How do continue to do more and more with fewer resources?

Leadership matters, resources matter. Without the leadership and resources to implement and evaluate the impact of each upcoming initiative, we as a state are set to repeat a very common mistake made in education: the inconsistent or partial implementation of multiple well-conceived ideas.

Without leadership, initiatives are implemented haphazardly. Without resources, initiatives do not reach a critical mass and students are left behind. Without careful monitoring of initiative implementation, changes that could improve the initiative are not identified, or worse yet, initiatives that don’t work are kept in place, or those that could have significant impact are removed.

Last week I had the honor of attending and participating in the 44th Annual CASE Education Leadership Convention. Over 1,000 members of the education community took part in this year’s program that focused on leading with impact. The theme of this year’s conference was timely in addressing how leadership can support all of us in the work that lays ahead this school year. Multiple initiatives – combined with limited resources – will challenge our teachers, our schools and our education leader as we step forward toward building a world-class public education system.

Several session speakers from the CASE conference shared information and strategies on how to lead our work with sustained optimism and improved culture.  Jim Ziolkowski, the founder of BuildOn, spoke about “igniting the spark” and shared his work of starting schools in underdeveloped countries. Leading by example, Jim’s message resonated with me deeply. We must hold the belief that every one of us can positively impact all students.

Steve Gross, who works for the Life is Good Playmakers foundation, gave an amazing presentation on “leading with joy and optimism,” leaving us with an understanding that as leaders, our attitude and what we bring to our work every day matters.

A leading academic and author, Doug Fisher, presented on a culture of achievement with the overall message that leaders will have to make sure that all stakeholders understand the work involved with upcoming initiatives and the importance of creating connected, coherent instructional systems.

With the upcoming work ahead, systems thinking will be a mandate. There must also be recognition that teachers are the most critical players in the upcoming initiatives implementation and deserve to be given the time, support and resources to incorporate the learning of standards, assessment and evaluation into their daily work.

There’s much to do. And while resources and leadership are central to a successful implementation of Colorado’s education reforms, in the end, we will only get there if we create a culture of collaboration, learning and mutual respect.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.