The Sign of a Healthy Educational Ecosystem in Denver

There was an interesting article in Chalkbeat Colorado last month about Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg and his unanimously approved 6 month break.

Boasberg will leave a district of more than 90,000 students and nearly 15,000 employees in the hands of a staff he’s built over his unusually long seven-year tenure. And he’ll leave with the blessing of a school board that universally backs his vision of reform.

The uncommon stability of Denver Public Schools is what makes his respite possible, observers said. For an urban district bent on drastic reform — including closing underperforming schools, welcoming new charter schools and paying teachers based on performance — Boasberg hasn’t dealt with the strife that has cut short the reigns of reform-minded superintendents elsewhere.

Denver sounds like a radically different educational ecosystem than many ones in NY. Denver’s environment seems to be relatively stable — so stable that the Superintendent can go on a 6 month leave with the full support of his board.

As far as I’m concerned, this reflects a healthy educational ecosystem. And Boasberg is making a move that I wish more leaders would make — he’s signalling to his district that taking extended time out to travel, learn more about the world, and enjoy one’s family is necessary for longevity. He’s planning to come back to his job, instead of stepping down and moving on to the next big thing.

In most educational systems, superintendents don’t stick around for longer than 3 years.  And many teachers and principals may not stick around for that long, either.

Maybe if we were more willing to invest in the long-term well-being of our families and communities, we’d see more longevity in the profession.


Spring Break and the Circle of Life

Public school teachers (and students) in New York and beyond are on vacation this week. Should we feel guilty about it? More than any aspect of our jobs, the vacation time we teachers receive draws resentful, bitter comments from folks outside the profession.

Having held a variety of other jobs, I definitely appreciate that teachers get more paid time than any other profession I know of. Sometimes, we take trips on these vacations, spending our exorbitant salaries on VIP suites in the finest resorts the French Riviera has to offer.

Sadly, I won’t be visiting the Riviera this week. Aside from writing blog posts, I’ll be catching up on work. I have about 50 pages worth of research papers to grade, a stack of written responses to Act III of Romeo & Juliet, and some lessons to plan.

I’m not complaining; I like most of this work and it’s the job I signed up for. Most teachers I know look forward to some of our vacation time precisely for this reason: we’re so overworked that without the time off, we could never catch up on our grading, planning, and sleep.

Schools, like ecosystems, follow the seasons. Fields and orchards lie fallow for long stretches in between planting and harvesting. These fallow periods aren’t wasted time; they allow ecosystems to regenerate and remain fertile.

Similarly, while teacher vacation time may look like a needless luxury to the value-added zealots, it’s restorative for both teachers and students. Whether we’re talking about schools or ecosystems, overwork and exhaustion are destructive forces. I’m grateful to have this week off; my students (and my well being) will be the better for it.