If I were appointed Mississippi’s superintendent of education, or at least a speechwriter for a more qualified person to take that position, here’s the public address I would write to be delivered on the first day in office:
“First of all, let me thank you all for the honor to serve our great state. I take seriously the sacred things you have entrusted in me: namely, care of our young people and tax dollars. Nothing in public service is more important than those two things, and I promise you I will do everything in my power to guard and grow your investment.
“Most of you probably know that up until today our state has paid our superintendent of education more than any other state in the nation; that ends today. As my first official act, I’m voluntarily lowering my pay today to equal that of the lowest paid state because we all know that’s where our education rankings stand. When what our students achieve increases, I’ll gladly take a raise. But we must have a connection between what is learned and what is earned.
“My second official act will be to issue my strongest recommendation to the state school board to reinstate passing grades on four subject area exams in English II, algebra I, biology and U.S. history as requirements for graduation. Since removing that barrier, our state’s graduation rates have increased, but the average ACT scores have remained flat. That means students aren’t learning any more than before, but more are graduating simply because we’ve lowered our standards. But the things required for success in life have not been reduced. We have been selling our students’ futures short, so that we bureaucrats can boast based on fake, manipulated numbers; that, too, ends now.
“That same attitude of accountability, so sorely missing in our education system for so long, will also be applied to how business is conducted in our Department of Education and schools. No more fat contracts for consulting services that accomplish nothing of substance; no more creating positions for cronies and kin folk who don’t have the qualifications to do their jobs; no more fancy buses taking students to crumbling schools filled with underpaid teachers. Our task is too serious, and the outcomes too crucial — the very future of our state! — to continue to do those things that serve ourselves and not students and taxpayers.
“Is it not written, ‘Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?’ Yes, that’s from the Bible, and I’m not ashamed to quote from it as every truly educated person should be aware of the contents of the book that has shaped our civilization more than any other.
“To our state’s teachers, I want to share my deepest respect for what you do. It’s a difficult and noble task that you undertake. Don’t let anyone demean your important work. Your profession should be as respected as any in our society. Parents, encourage your children who profess an interest in becoming educators. Don’t scoff at them and push them to other careers with bigger salaries and easier workloads. We need the best and brightest students in our classrooms, where they can truly make a difference, which is a more meaningful contribution than money can buy. We must share that positive message about the benefits of teaching to fix our teacher shortage — as well as work with the Legislature on a pay plan that compensates teachers in accordance with their importance to our society.
“Teachers, I will have an open door for any recommendations you have. I won’t even screen my calls because I want to hear from you about how we can better teach students; that’s because you are in the trenches fighting every day and know the needs. I will listen to you.”
Well, I got on my high horse there and ended up with more to say than space. But I’ll return next week to conclude my speech.
Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him via email at email@example.com or call (601) 736-2611.