“We need to make sure we're making teaching an attractive profession beginning with our youngest learners. We need to show them that it is a pathway of opportunity and it is a noble profession - one with a mission.”
I caught up with Verletta White, Chief Academic Officer for Baltimore County Public Schools at the AASA Conference in New Orleans, to get her pulse on issues facing school leaders. Interestingly, she points to a glaring need within education - teacher recruitment. It all starts with getting the message out that teaching is a good choice and a solid career decision for all youth. Women and minority candidates need to realize the profession abounds with both opportunity and advancement.
Looking at education as a business can seem surface level to old guard sentiment, but in reality, it functions in a similar fashion. There is a branding issue inside education, and it's incumbent of district leaders to tackle the problem sooner than later in order to recruit the most advantageous pool of teachers.
According to White, good teachers are often the best candidates for administrative hire, so it makes sense to look at ways in which districts can promote the message. Young aspiring minds should see the job of teaching as one of promise and fulfillment with a clear career trajectory. The message: 1.) Get teachers into the pipeline that are representative of the community 2.) Promote minority and women candidates that speak to the culture of the community 3.) Watch the youth inside the district respond and set their sights on a similar path.
It's a good process that feeds itself, bringing hope and achievement - district wide.
Rod Berger: Verletta, it's really nice to spend some time with you. I'm having conversations with school leaders around topics that I can resonate with parents, families, and communities around the US. I think the perspective that is really interesting in your line of work is how you handle the district size and scope.
Baltimore can be seen as a beacon in that way because you have so much to manage - from large budgets to large staffs and students.
What is it like when you are able to congregate with other school leaders of districts of different sizes? What types of conversations and questions do they have for you about managing the size and scope of Baltimore?
Verletta White: I think it's great being in a learning organization. When you're a lifelong learner, that's exactly what it means. It means collaboration. It means sharing thoughts and ideas.
It's critical for us to engage in conversations together about what we're doing and how we're going about the work. It's about the structure; it's about the process; it's about our overall goal and the expectations for our students.
We share common goals. So why not share those best practices as well?
RB: Do you feel there's sense of responsibility when we have districts that are part of a big metropolitan and urban setting? What is that like for you?
VW: Whenever we're talking about any school system, large or small, we're all working toward the standards for all students. We are trying to make sure all students have access to a high-quality curriculum and content while looking at the human side of the students as well.
So whether or not you're a small district or a larger district, we still have those expectations for our system; and we can still share.
Scope and scale do matter in terms of making sure everything still feels small even within a larger organization. The challenge for larger organizations is to make sure that that service and support to students still feel small.
And that's why when we get together it helps. Especially when we can share those best practices.
RB: It normalizes things, too, right?
RB: Let's go down a slightly sensitive path. Let's discuss diversification of district leadership around the US. I've had a lot of conversations with those who are aspiring superintendents on the topic of integrating more minorities and women into positions so we can be representative of the communities we serve. We also wish to provide opportunities for young people that may have not existed from a visual perspective - as a real a possibility; a path of opportunity.
Just your reflection: Where do you see that and how has that grown and are there areas where we still need to improve?
VW: Absolutely, we need to improve so that our school leadership is reflective of our communities and reflective of our schools.
I think that the answer starts with teacher recruitment and getting more teachers into the pipeline ─ teachers of color and of various backgrounds into the teacher pipeline.
It doesn't even begin with the conversation with administration. We need to make sure that we're making teaching an attractive profession beginning with our youngest learners. We need to show them that it is a pathway of opportunity and that it is a noble profession - one with a mission.
I'm fortunate to have two daughters who are interested in teaching.
RB: You're a good role model.
VW: Sometimes. (ha) I've heard others try to talk them out of it. I understand that it's a difficult job. But anything worthwhile is pretty difficult.
RB: Speaking to the narrative ─ not to gloss over it and call it “marketing” but there is a "messaging" that's important. Your daughters get to see you and be proud of Mom’s accomplishments, but they're still hearing some naysayers out there tell them, “Why would you go down that path?”
It almost puts leadership in a position of all levels ─ classroom, building administration or district administration ─ to think about the message that gets out there. We really are marketing a brand. It's an industry.
VW: We are. And therefore one should look at the challenges and the opportunities of our profession. That's the way one should go about any profession. We should have an honest dialogue.
But the service that goes into the role of a teacher is as unlike anything else, I believe.
We have to promote the service and support to our students and their families. It is remarkable and it's something that we all should aspire to, in my opinion.
I'm rooting for my girls. They're still teenagers right now. I'm promoting teaching as a profession for them.
But the administrative question comes into play, I believe, when we start talking about that teacher pipeline.
RB: Let's take a little bit of a left turn and talk about being a Chief Academic Officer. What role does a CAO play not only in providing and executing a vision, but also in integrating the business community to help serve from a solution and technology perspective?
I don't know if a lot of people understand all that goes on for you and your contemporaries in moving a district forward working with superintendents.
Tell us a little bit about that.
VW: I have a wonderful opportunity to work across the board. I am not overseeing the curriculum processes ─ revising the development of curriculum ─ but I'm also implementing the curriculum.
And with that comes conversations with governing boards, the Board of Education, with some of our elected officials, and some of our business partners. It is a far-reaching kind of a position that makes those connections.
The CEO serves as the liaison and the bridge, if you will, to make sure communication happens.
It is of paramount importance. Those types of conversations are critical in making sure talks come together. We have to shape products and services. We have to lend our voice to businesses that are shaping products and services for our students. We have to lend our voice to the process.
We are with our students every day. We know what they need. We know what their families need. We have to be a part of those critical conversations at the very beginning of the product and service development. We want products shaped to meet the needs of our students.
In terms of the business aspect, it is a business. We can't discount that.
So we do have to be fiscally responsible. We have to be prudent in how we're making decisions. We have to be thoughtful. We have to make decisions based on what we see and based on what the data is telling us every day.
RB: I find there is, sometimes, a challenge; there's a caution in pushing out education as a business in fear that leaders in districts who say that, are perceived as omitting the teaching and the learning. The response is a quipped, “Well, it's always teaching and learning first.”
It feels like we're struggling to put them both on the table. And yet, it seems like if we're going to be progressive and serve the needs of our students - your daughters, my children - then both need to sit at the same table as concepts.
Am I correct in that review?
VW: We are in the business of teaching and learning. We are in the business of educating students. And by “business,” I mean, there are certain things corporations have to consider.
Change is in the world. Change is in the marketplace. Change is in demands - considering the whole supply and demand aspect.
The same thing is true for education. There are changes in education as well. There are changes in standards and changes in the way we have to go about the teaching of those standards. There's a change in pedagogy.
When looking at how we need to go about making changes, particularly in a large district, we do have to consider the professional development side; we have to consider budgetary aspects.
RB: The impact, right?
VW: Yes, the impact - and the policies and processes involved in any type of change management.
RB: Baltimore is lucky to have you. And here's to your daughters, hopefully, continuing in your path.
Thank you so much, Verletta
VW: Thank you.
About Verletta White
Ms. Verletta White serves as the Chief Academic Officer for the Baltimore County Public Schools, a position she has held since 2013. Baltimore County Public Schools is the 25th largest school district in the nation, with a diverse student population of 111,000 students and a teaching staff of over 8,000. A dynamic, innovative, and transformational leader, Ms. White serves as the chief instructional leader responsible for defining and communicating the vision of the school system while motivating a division of over 500 curriculum and student support staff.
Ms. White began her teaching career in 1992, as an elementary school teacher in Baltimore City and transitioned to a teaching position in Baltimore County in 1995. She received her first appointment to an administrative position in 1998, and continued her service as a school-based administrator through 2006. A Baltimore native, she continued her administrative career in her first central office position as the coordinator of Professional Development where she utilized her classroom teaching and mentoring experiences to foster the professional growth of teachers and administrators on a system level.
Ms. White has served as an adjunct professor in School Improvement Leadership for Goucher College since 2013, and is a state and national presenter on topics such as professional development, the transformation of teaching and learning, and leading through change in a digital era. She holds a bachelor of science degree in education from Towson University, a master of arts degree in Leadership in Teaching from the College of Notre Dame in Maryland, and she is currently a doctoral candidate in Urban Educational Leadership at Morgan State University.
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About Rod Berger, PsyD.
Dr. Rod Berger is President and CEO of MindRocket Media Group. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes
Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.
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