Cynthia Emerson, principal at Vero Beach Elementary School, talks about the free book distribution for their students, using a grant to provide eleven new books for every student to keep, to create literacy magic at home.

Talk about some provocative questions:

What do you want from education reform regardless of your beliefs, political party or motives?

If you were starting with nothing, what would you request for our children?

That’s what Tina McSoley, a former Martin County School Board member and longtime educator, wants to know. Through a new, fast-growing Facebook group, “Reconstruct-ED: A Message to Governor DeSantis,” McSoley seeks to come up with recommendations in a simple, apolitical way.

I appreciate her effort and have been reading comments posted on the page. My initial thoughts don’t fit the format she’s looking for, but here goes:

PERSPECTIVE: We should look at her questions only from the perspective of a selfless advocate for children.

We must stop looking at education through our lenses as parents, school employees or education vendors. If we seek real reform, it should be based not on what’s best for my child or my paycheck.

More: When parents speak, will Tallahassee listen?

LOCAL LEADERSHIP: Bring Florida in line with much of the rest of the country and stop paying school board members as full-time employees. Board members should look at issues only through the lens cited above. They should never fear not getting re-elected and losing tens of thousands of dollars a year in salary, plus benefits, including a pension.

Streamline state education rules so board members focus only on things most boards do: fiduciary responsibilities, strategy, policy, governance, accountability to the public. Minutiae in School Board meetings can be mind-numbing. Stop requiring boards to approve donations, personnel recommendations, standard budget adjustments and more.

Hire the best professionals and let them do their jobs. Support them when needed.

Give local school boards and voters more control over spending and taxation. 

EDUCATIONAL MISSION: Create lifelong learners who reach their full potential by teaching skills not only in traditional subjects, but in critical thinking, collaboration and other areas required for adults to thrive in the 21st century.

SCHOOLS/STUDENTS: We need safe schools, not schools resembling prisons. Fields, tracks and other outdoor facilities should be open during non-school hours.

All schools must become places where children and parents feel part of a family, where each member is loved, but accountable and helpful. In some cases, that might mean smaller, community schools. 

Communication is essential. Teachers and parents should never be surprised. Create relationships so stakeholders respect and are honest with each other.

EMPLOYEES: Pay employees based on competence, supply and demand. Great teachers should not have to move into administration and private industry or become tutors (as science and math teachers have done) to get paid what they’re worth.

Provide professional development and mentors.

More: Charter enrollment proves parental demand for school choice

SCHOOL CHOICE: We have a multitude of choices in the rest our lives. School selection — online, private, public, charter — is no different.

Many parents want the best for their children. Traditional public schools must compete with the growing number of charter schools to offer what parents and students want. 

Schools must innovate to succeed. They must anticipate community expectations.

Ultimately, they might need to do even more, as the description of Clayton Christensen’s 2008 book, “Disprupting Class,” suggests:

“The way we learn doesn’t always match up with the way we are taught. If we hope to stay competitive — academically, economically, and technologically — we need to reevaluate our educational system, rethink our approach to learning, and reinvigorate our commitment to learning. In other words, we need disruptive innovation.”

TESTING: Limit tests. We need some, especially to measure student learning gains and the performance of our system vs. those of other states and nations.

I like the concept of public school tests I took as a child. My recollection is we had one or two standardized tests a year. In high school we took statewide end-of-year course exams in such subjects as algebra and chemistry.

In Florida, tests yield too many numbers with too little context. Graduation rates are at record levels, yet smaller percentages of students read at grade level.

I spent only a few hours putting these thoughts together. What do you think?

We’d love to publish your comments in 200 words or less as letters to the editor. You can send your comments to [email protected]

Or head to the “Reconstruct-ED: A Message to Governor DeSantis” Facebook group.

Laurence Reisman is a columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers, part of the USA TODAY Network – Florida. Follow him on Twitter @LaurenceReisman.

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