There’s one question I get a lot as a school board candidate and especially, I think, as a young candidate: What has prepared you to lead a 21st century school system?
It is an obvious question to ask but may be challenging to answer.
What does it mean to have a 21st century school system? What new challenges do we face today and what historical challenges remain to be overcome? What are the demands of our moment in history on leaders, educators, and students?
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Twenty-first century schools sadly retain many of the challenges of previous eras. It is the unfortunate reality that in 2017, more than a half a century after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, our society remains staggeringly unequal and our schools both reflect and perpetuate that inequality.
Reflecting a tradition of patriarchy, our society still fails to compensate educators generously for their work of profound value simply because schools were traditionally staffed by women. And many advancements for workers that would benefit both educators and students remain elusive as efforts to organize labor across the South meet steep political opposition along lines of both race and class.
But 21st century schools face new challenges as well. Students each year will graduate into a world drastically different from previous years as technological advancement continues to accelerate. Schools must persevere in an era when we fear to check the news lest we hear of another mass shooting. And as our society continues to better itself through increased diversity, our school systems must be prepared to facilitate this betterment by becoming ever more inclusive.
These are daunting challenges, but I know I am prepared to lead a 21st century school system because I am a leader developed from a 21st century school system. The keystone issue for my campaign is to confront directly the legacy of white supremacist ideology in the de facto segregation of today’s gifted, honors, and Advanced Placement classes.
As a student, I learn as much from my fellow students as I do from my instructors. Consequently, as a student, I advocated for integrating gifted students back into classrooms in my middle school and expanding access to Advanced Placement courses in my high school.
My experience advising students from schools around the nation and world at the University of Chicago has only furthered my convictions of the necessity of creating classrooms that represent the communities they serve and better equipped me to do so. Now in admissions, I can now better than ever contextualize the implications any such policy would have on post-secondary opportunities for districts as well as individuals.
As a public employee in education in a self-styled “right-to-work” state, I have empathy for the shortcomings in both financial and non-financial compensation faced by educators in our schools. But I also understand how much our community has to offer because I myself have chosen the education capital of the New South to be my home.
As a technologist, I understand how rapidly the demands of the economy may change. From work in consumer electronics to the Mars mission to forestry and now research and education, I have pushed my education to the limits and seen where it succeeds, such as teaching a strong work ethic, and where it is found wanting, such as in presenting a whitewashed perspective of history or prioritizing rote memorization over critical thinking.
Though I was young at the time, I remember the invasion of fear into schools that has since grown to a fever pitch over years of continued violence. Even if we as students didn’t at first understand, we felt the fear of our educators and over time we grew accustomed to walking halls visibly protected with lethal force. For all the advances of our school system, it is clear much work remains to be done. But if there’s one thing it taught, it’s the value of getting started early.
So here I am, humbly submitting myself to the community as ready to serve. And ready I am because there is no better preparation to lead the 21st century schools than 21st century schools themselves.
Calvin Deutschbein is a candidate for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.