Building Networks: Working to Give State Leaders the Tools to Strengthen Education in Virginia
Strong Leadership is Critical for Educational Success
Education systems must have the tools necessary to give all children the chance to succeed in the workforce and to become productive citizens. This can’t be achieved without strong state leadership, and as fourteen state superintendents are in or concluding the first year of their terms, they must recognize the critical role strong networks play in supporting their work. This is what Dr. James Lane is doing early in his first term as Virginia’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Dr. Lane was appointed to the role last May, making him the executive officer of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). He wanted to refine the VDOE’s priorities, and he knew the importance of surrounding himself with leaders who could provide valuable input on pressing education issues. In this effort, Dr. Lane partnered with the Hunt Institute (Hunt) and the Education Commission of the States (ECS) to create the Virginia is for Learners Advisory Committee (Advisory Committee), a group of education, business, and political leaders assembled to help Dr. Lane identify education-related priorities for the VDOE as he works to ensure all children in the Commonwealth can maximize their potential in and out of the classroom.
Recruitment: Bringing Different Perspectives to the Same Table
In recruiting the members for the Committee, Hunt, ECS, and the VDOE understood the need for a wide range of perspective, and this understanding guided the recruiting process and influenced the composition of the group. The Committee had leaders from all parts of the education continuum, including former state superintendents, legislators, teachers, principals, parents, and national experts. Having this diversity on the Committee is critical to ensuring that all voices in or connected to the education system can have their interests, ideas, and concerns heard at the table.
Initiating Change with Good Conversation
The Advisory Committee met three times over the course of the fall in the Greater Richmond Area, discussing critical topics Dr. Lane wanted to focus on during his tenure. The topics covered all parts of the education continuum, ranging from early childhood to college and career pathways. Two topics were discussed in detail in each meeting, as members reviewed the national and state landscapes of each issue and then discussed in-depth what priorities the Department should focus on within each topic. The conversations that took place during the meetings were substantive and passionate, and it was a pleasure witnessing leaders engage with one another at the table on priorities to focus on in the coming years.
The goal of these meetings was to find consensus on priorities to set within each topic, and the group worked to ensure each priority was suited for helping all learners grow. For example, members of the Advisory Committee recommended the creation of a statewide education-business advisory council, which would strengthen the connection between the business and education communities and help stakeholders better understand how to best prepare students for the workforce. There was also consensus on the need to expand quality and access of early childhood education programs. Many of Virginia’s youngest children lack an affordable early childhood education option, and the state must identify where the lack to access is greatest and how quality options will be delivered to areas in need.
Since committee members brought so many valuable points to the table, us members at Hunt understood the need to catch every detail and be prepared to identify the critical points and recommendations made in each conversation. Once the three meetings took place, Hunt, ECS, and the Department compiled all recommendations agreed upon by the Advisory Committee into a white paper for Dr. Billy Cannaday, the group’s Chair, to present to the Virginia Board of Education. When Dr. Cannaday presented the recommendations, which were met with excitement by the Board.
Putting Strong Leadership to Work
Good policy cannot be crafted without substantive and passionate conversation, and those conversations were had during those three meetings, but the work is far from complete. With the Virginia is for Learners Advisory Committee, Dr. Lane has a strong network of stakeholders across Virginia who are ready and eager to support his work and provide their thoughts on critical issues going forward. His willingness to bring voices from around the state to the same table is a testament to his strong leadership. We at the Hunt Institute are grateful for this opportunity to play a role in driving important conversation and bringing leaders together and as they work to bring strong educational opportunities to all children in Virginia.