Date: April 28, 2004Remarks as written to the Minnesota Senate Education Committee, April 27, 2004, by Kathryn Green:
Subject: School Board Chair Endorses Yecke
Senator Kelley, members of the committee, my name is Kathryn Green, I am Chairperson of the Austin School Board. I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts on the matter before you.
First and foremost I am here as a parent. Literally my journey as involved parent has led me here. In 1992, while serving on our district’s Performance, Evaluation and Review committee, the precursor to our current Curriculum Advisory Committee, it became apparent to me that legislation both at the state and federal level was going to be driving the classroom. You as legislators would be having a seat at our family’s kitchen table. We would be intertwined when curriculum issues and class selection were being discussed, no longer would it be enough to contact a teacher or school board member. The magnitude of that reality has continued to grow over the past 12 years.
Partisanship in any form in education is destructive. I am a parent who was going to pay attention and understand the implications of policy actions. I grew up in a Democrat home, campaigned for state and local candidates and when my concern for education took me to the legislature. I contacted my local legislators, Sen. Pat Piper and Rep. Rob Leighton. To my dismay they had little interest in discussing the limitations of the Profile of Learning. They talked in terms of “High Standards.” In 1998, I attended the Democratic state convention in St. Cloud. The realization that the state Democrats had embraced the Profile and had little interest to hear of its down side was apparent. In 2002 I attended the Republican state convention in St. Paul lobbying hard for the repeal of the Profile. And should any of you like to paint me with a right wing conservative brush you could also find a 2002 campaign donation to Sen. Becky Lourey for her campaign for governor.
As I have followed the political actions of the state legislature in regards to education there were significant actions including the dismantling of the State Board of education in 1998 and the transfer of authority to the Commissioner of Education. Past practice of this committee saw Christine Jax, who was married to a Democratic legislator, had a fraction of the experience and credentials of the candidate before you, recommended for confirmation in a hearing that lasted less than 30 minutes and then onto the floor for a voice vote for confirmation.
I am here to give my unequivocal support to Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke as the commissioner of education for the great state of Minnesota. I am non-partisan when it comes to education. My politics are that of a parent.
I am a graduate of South High School, as well as the University of Minnesota. First and foremost I am a parent with a passion for the education of my children, a public education. Now as Chairperson, that passion extends to the 4,000 students in our community. Our community is a newly diverse one with demographics that mirror that of Minnesota inner-city urban areas. We have challenges facing us in terms of poverty, mobility, limited English proficiency and the onslaught of No Child Left Behind. We also have talented students and staff who value academics and the arts.
I have come to my support of Commissioner Yecke as a person skeptical of the position. When her name was announced I wanted to know her background and philosophy. Would she advocate for students and public education? Would she support academics and respect local autonomy? Would she listen to the students, parents and education staff who so much want to communicate their concerns?
I was one of more than two thousand applicants across the state selected to serve on the Academic Standards Committee last spring. My committee proved to be a diverse group of educators, parents and community members from across the state who had an equal passion for making Minnesota’s academic standards a leader in the nation. My area of involvement was Math grades 9-12. Early in the process the math committee bogged down with the elements of “math wars:” calculators vs. no calculators in elementary standards, along with traditional vs. integrated approaches. Commissioner Yecke entered the discussion to bring the two sides together. She directed the committee to set specific measurable academic math standards and explained the autonomy of local districts would make the ultimate philosophic decisions regarding curriculum. Both sides came together to create a superior set of standards that either philosophy could proceed with. Her approach was equally successful with the debate between phonics vs. whole language. She is incredibly sensitive and knowledgeable of current and past trends in curricular movements. The current scrutiny of the social studies and science standards show her ability to continue to maintain composure as she seeks scholarly critiques and areas of compromise.
During her unprecedented tour of the state with her public hearings of the proposed academic standards she was greeted in communities with warmth and enthusiasm. In her initial visit to Austin within weeks of her appointment she sought out community members to get a feel for the uniqueness of our circumstances. She asked parents and education staff for their perception of the state of education in our area, strengths as well as concerns. She is a sincere listener who has the ability to communicate to her audience. As a member the Academic Standards committee I joined the Commissioner at several public hearings throughout southeastern Minnesota. The poise and respect she showed to supporters as well as detractors while presenting the proposed academic standards throughout the state was stellar.
We have a segment of special needs students in our district and the state that are little understood or mandated to be provided with appropriate services. Dr. Yecke has been criticized for the professional text she has written giving a voice to the needs of our high potential middle school students. It is a well researched and documented book asking hard questions and giving thought provoking solutions to help our students meet their ultimate potential.
Starting at least 10 years ago, parents across the state weighing options have taken their children and migrated to private and home schooling. They go quietly; it is not in their nature to visit the halls of their legislature to plead their case for Minnesota’s tradition of educational excellence. I have come to know that Commissioner Yecke is the person who will advocate for educational excellence for all children, to build the confidence and structure needed to maintain our status as an educational leader nationwide. She has proved herself to be intelligent with impeccable credentials, education and experience. Her roots are in Minnesota. She knows and has a feel for classrooms, curriculum and politics. Her life’s work has been invested believing in public education. She sees and understands the challenges that are facing this essential element of our society.
In her own words: “To put it simply, my vision for public education is this: Minnesota, long a leader in national measures of academic achievement, must move into a new stage of leadership where we maintain our position and continue to cultivate academic excellence in the aggregate, while rising to the challenge of providing a quality education for struggling students, thereby narrowing, and eventually closing, the achievement gap.”
Our state needs to seize this opportunity and support the confirmation of Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke as our Education Commissioner.