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Education Summit Kicks Off ODU's New Community Engagement Initiative

Guest speaker Diane Ravitch and Professor Emeritus Maurice Berube talk with a participant at the education summit.

Area leaders from the education, legislative, business and student communities came together at Old Dominion University on Friday, Oct. 8, for the Darden College of Education's State of Education Summit 2010.

The inaugural event of ODU's new community engagement initiative, the summit was designed to set off a community-wide effort to address important issues in education. It also served as an official welcome for the college's new dean, Linda Irwin-DeVitis, who characterized the summit as "a call to action to work together."

President John R. Broderick welcomed guests to the summit and Norfolk City Councilman Tommy Smigiel, a 2000 ODU graduate who was the 2008 Virginia Teacher of the Year and currently is an assistant principal at Norfolk's Lake Taylor High School, brought greetings from the city of Norfolk.

The morning session featured a lecture by Diane Ravitch, historian, educator and former U.S. assistant secretary of education. Ravitch is the author of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education" (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

Following her lecture, the approximately 150 audience members were asked to engage in roundtable discussions and then submit their ideas for ways to improve the education system. "I promise you, this is the beginning of a larger conversation on how we can improve our public schools," Irwin-DeVitis said.

Ravitch endorsed the very purpose of the summit, speaking out in favor of an "all hands on board" approach. "Our elected officials, our civic leaders, must work together to promote economic development so that families have hope for the future. The entire community must work together to improve the lives of children," she said.

Introduced by Maurice Berube, ODU eminent scholar of educational leadership and counseling who said he has taught her books for many years, Ravitch spoke out against the No Child Left Behind Act, the standards-based education reform law that she once promoted as assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush.

Ravitch said that No Child Left Behind has failed, leading to a narrowing of the curriculum and other problems.

"In this country, what we need is more professionalism, not less," she told the audience. "We need teachers who enter teaching to make a career of the profession of teaching. We need principals who are experienced educators.

"I would say the superintendents need to be educators because they're going to be the ones making the fundamental decisions about curriculum, instruction and personnel, and allocation of resources. These decisions have to be grounded in education, not just in the data."

Ravitch spoke out against the introduction of reform initiatives "every other day or every other month," saying that teachers should be given "the chance to teach and to do what they know is right for children, using a good curriculum and good assessment. I think that many teachers are suffering now from reform fatigue."

She added, "There should be a commitment in this country to every school, and every child should have access to a curriculum that includes the arts, science, history, geography, literature, foreign languages, and physical education and health."

Ravitch also said that states should put in place inspection teams that visit low-performing schools to determine what the problems are, and then provide additional resources to help solve them.

"The entire community has to work together to improve the lives of children to make sure that they have adequate health care and nutrition," she added.

The summit's afternoon program was devoted to a panel discussion of "Collaborative Relationships: Bridging the Transition from Early Care to Educational Settings." Irwin-DeVitis noted, "Education is perhaps the critical issue of the 21st century in Hampton Roads, as across our country; we have work to do to reach our young people. That work must start with preschool and families and continue through postsecondary education."

Members of the panel included: Richard Bentley, superintendent, Norfolk Public Schools; Andrea DeBruin-Parecki, ODU associate professor of early childhood education; Lawanna Dowden, director, STOP Organization (Head Start); Jennifer Barefoot Gresham, director, Barefoot Kids; Lisa Howard, president and CEO, Smart Beginnings South Hampton Roads; and Myrna Simmons, senior coordinator, Early Childhood, Norfolk Public Schools. Katie Squibb, early childhood professional and ODU doctoral student in early childhood education, served as moderator.

Irwin-DeVitis said she believes that the summit will produce positive results.

"We will be analyzing the feedback from the summit participants and taking their comments and concerns back to a variety of stakeholders and audiences - from businesses and civic groups to neighborhood organizations and parent groups, from foundations to researchers, to school divisions, to colleges and universities. As we move to define the issues and prioritize the needs, we will be working together to find solutions and answers to maximize our shared resources," she said.

"We hope this event will be the first of many with our partner school divisions, community agencies and other stakeholders who care about quality education in our region. As to the specifics of future events, our summit will provide the specific direction and timing. I can say with certainty, we are determined to make a positive and lasting difference. We know we cannot do it alone, but improving education at every level is our mission; it is our passion; it is why we exist."

This article was posted on: October 14, 2010

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