Monday, February 28, 2011

Getting Out More

Many of us are active in organizations and on boards of other not-for-profits as part of our community service orientation.  I very much believe in the responsibility of faculty, administrators, and students to contribute their time and resources (if possible) in support of providing a better  quality of life for members of our community.  And over the years I have been active in many very worthwhile organizations including my present service on the board of ProjectGrad Long Island.  ProjectGrad has on Long Island and nationally partnered with economically disadvantaged school districts to provide extra support and enhance the chances of success for these students. I am not only active myself in organizations like this but I encourage my colleagues to also become involved in support of the community (broadly defined).

Every board I serve on also provides me with an enhanced education for myself.  I learn by serving, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot more.  About two years ago, some school board members in the district in which I live asked me to run for the school board.  I actually already had school board service at a local Quaker school but I also already had continuing community service commitments.  I ultimately said yes—how can you say no to helping enhance the schools in your own community and where your kids and their friends go to school ?  The other board members are very smart, very dedicated, very focused on the kids, which for me are all positives; the time commitment, however, is more than I expected.  But what also is much more than I expected is my learning about k-12 education and school finance.  Especially daunting are the looming financial issues compounded by many unfunded state mandates.  For example, New York’s new governor is talking about a 2% property tax cap which makes sense; however, at the same time mandatory increases in school district contributions to the state (defined benefit) pension plan  plus increases in the cost of health care will also equal approximately 2%. But in any school budget there are likely other increasing costs such as compensation for all employees as well as steps and lane changes for teachers.  Especially fascinating are the issues of more accurately measuring learning, increasing learning, and the impact of teachers on that learning.   All of this gives me a much better understanding of teacher education and  educational leadership, two key areas in our School of Education, Health and Human Services.  And none of us in higher education should forget for even a moment that what we can accomplish in providing students with a first rate higher education is inextricably interwoven with what they have accomplished in their k-12 education.

Service to the community is part of giving back which we all should do.  But it is also involves educating ourselves in ways that enhance our understanding of complex issues and our job performance.  Doing our jobs as well as they can be done clearly requires to be involved in more than our jobs.  We all need to get out more.

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