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  • Mission Impossible

    When I think about the formidable array of issues confronting today’s public school superintendent, I must confess that my thoughts flash back to one of my favorite television shows of the past – Mission Impossible. For those of you too young to have watched the originals, perhaps you’ve seen a re-run or two. Each show began with a clandestine playing of a tape that included the challenge at hand, accompanied by an envelope with pictures of the perpetrators and instructions. The audio tape would always state, “Your mission sir, should you decide to accept it, is to… As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.” Each episode brought seemingly insurmountable challenges, amazing intrigue, great suspense and danger to the agents. And yet, always equal to the task, the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) concluded each episode successfully.

    There are some great parallels to be found between the television program and the circumstances befalling public education today. As superintendents, you have been asked to accept the mission. In the accompanying envelope you found SIDS, SMIDS, NJSMART, SGOs, mSGP, Teacher training in researched-based Effectiveness models, Field Testing, Technology needs for testing electronically, NJ School Performance Report, College and Career Readiness, SAT results, AP performance, IB courses, PARCC, Common Core, NJASK results, HSPA results, NAEP results, Attendance and Graduation data, HIB investigations, Free and Reduced Lunch data, Special Education Programs, Limited English Proficiency data and Peer School comparisons. Some envelopes have Priority School data, Focus School data, Special Education Disproportionality data, Federal Title Program data and requirements, IDEA data and requirements and much more. For good measure, look all the way at the bottom of the envelope for some parent push-back on many of these other items. Before you accept the challenge, remember that you still need to operate your district/schools on a daily basis, finding time to assess building climate and staff morale as well as making inclement weather decisions!

    Just as each episode of the television program concluded with a successful outcome, you too, have accepted the challenges and demonstrated that you are equal to the task. Actually, when I think about it, perhaps the television show should have been re-titled. But even if a case can’t be made for that change, I do know that our parallel public school challenge should be rightfully called, Mission Possible. In the face of enormous change that has occurred at a highly accelerated pace, as superintendents, you have created the climate for change, assisted your parents and communities in understanding and facilitating the new approaches while addressing their concerns and fears and you have helped your staff deal with uncertainty and trepidation tied to the unknown outcomes and implications. These herculean tasks have not been easily accomplished. The amount of time, planning and effort behind the successful handling of these issues belies quantification. But you rose to the task. You worked tirelessly to ensure the best implementation possible. Your incentive, as always, is to provide successful outcomes for your students. You know that success is a choice and you always choose it!

    The state of New Jersey is able to post achievement results that rank among the highest in the nation. You made that happen! The state has registered the highest graduation rate in its public school history. You made that happen! As a state, our SAT average (since adopting the 2400 platform) and our Advanced Placement (AP) participation and AP test results are at historic highs. You made that happen! While much needs to be done moving forward, please know that you accepted the impossible mission and turned it into Mission Possible.  As superintendents, your leadership makes things happen. For all of the criticism that accrues to public education, I hope you know that our results have never been better, thanks to you. Lincoln reminds us that, “The largest room in any organization is the room for improvement.” As we continue to work hard at our moving targets, please take some time to bask in the reflected glory of student performance.

    Congratulations and keep up the great work.