Commissioner Edelblut Discusses Policy Priorities at Town Hall Meeting

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On Friday, April 28th, NH Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut, held a moderated town hall at New England College (see Reaching Higher’s live stream of the event here). The Commissioner set forth his priorities and vision for education in New Hampshire and responded to questions from the audience, curated by the moderator. Given that this is the Commissioner’s first major public address since officially assuming office, Reaching Higher will run a series of posts over the coming weeks, exploring his priorities in greater depth.

In his opening remarks, Commissioner Edelblut spelled out three clear policy priorities: elevating “parent voice”, increasing “personalization,” and implementing a “vertical integration project.” The Q&A period brought several additional key areas to the fore: state education funding, federal education funding, early childhood education, standards and assessments, special education, and student wellness. What follows are some highlights from the Commissioner’s remarks.

Parent Voice via Choice

“Tell me about parent voice in your particular system. And the educators will immediately, it seems, gravitate to what I would refer to as parental engagement. So they will talk to me about the barbeques that they have and how they are able to get parents to come for a movie night, or to participate in some other event that is taking place at the school, and those are really great and important things to engage parents. But it’s not exactly what I mean when I talk about parent voice. When I talk about parent voice what i am interested in is trying to find ways to engage parents, substantively, in the education of their children. So that they have, I like to call it, skin in the game…”

“What this looks like in one [unnamed] district is, a district that has six elementary schools, now in this particular district, that district, the superintendent allows the parents voice to say you can go, send your child to any one of those six elementary schools in the district. You pick the one that you want.”

“It doesn’t really matter which one it is because even if they choose the local community school, if there is any kind of issue associated with the education of their child and they have to come in and meet with the administration, it’s a different conversation that takes place. Because now you’re saying, well, that parent chose that school. There are 5 other places that they could have sent that child, but they chose that school. So, they have skin in the game in terms of determining where their child will go to school. And they are engaged and have more voice in that process, and I believe, are more apt to support the efforts of the child and the efforts of the school. So parent voice is something that I ask about wherever I go.”

Personalization

“I sometimes refer to it as N of 1. Now this is just the mathematical expression that recognizes that children are different…”

“This [unnamed] school has basically done blended classes. They hold their classes, as like a 2 or K-2, and they’ve got a 1-3, and they’ve got a 2-5. And they are putting students in the classes group not based upon how old the students are but based on where the students are in terms of development, and where they are learning and what they are accomplishing.”

Vertical Integration

“My responsibility, I am dealing with K-12, but you know just because I’m K-12, doesn’t mean that those students aren’t going to be continuing on. Right? Whether that is to the community college system, whether it’s the university system, and really all of us eventually continue on to into  the workplace. So can we create some type of a framework that has common vernacular that allows all of us to communicate about education and education opportunities and the direction that we are moving in a common framework that is vertically integrated.”

State Education Funding

“I don’t have magic, you know I call it Claremont fairy dust to solve the education funding issues in New Hampshire. But here the way, here’s one of the things that I think about relative to this. What I find often times when I am having conversations with folks is, we tend to conflate funding and academic or pedagogy. And I would like to bifurcate these.”

Federal Education Funding

Question from moderator – …if the federal government ends funding for afterschool programs, will you support state funding for them?

“Again let’s separate, my job here is the pedagogical aspect, I know you guys all think, think with the checkbook here, but I will focus on pedagogical opportunities and those funding questions I think are best addressed by the legislature.”

Early Childhood Education

Question from moderator – …how do you plan to support high-quality early childhood?

“…relative to that early childhood years, all of the studies will tell you that the best possible option is a great home family life. You know where either mom or dad or grandma or grandpa or aunt or uncle or an extended family, whatever it is, are reading to the students, are engaging them, are talking to them and engaging them in all kinds of, you know, interaction like that…but we need to recognize that not all family and home environments are like that, and so where that is the case, we want to make sure that we provide quality opportunities that will have the reading, and the engagement, and stuff like that, for those students.”

Question from moderator – Do you support full-day kindergarten?

“It doesn’t really matter, I am the implementation guy here.”

Standards and Assessments

“Part of my responsibility, legislatively, if you look at roman numeral 10 under the duties of the commissioner, my responsibility there, in law, is that i am supposed to review, on an ongoing basis, that is a quote out of the law, the standards of our state.”

“So I am looking for as many opportunities as I can so that testing is not so disruptive to the education process.”

Special Education

Question from moderator – Do you believe in mainstreaming children with developmental disabilities? What are your specific policy stances?

“So I believe that when we, when mainstreaming happens, it’s a really good thing. You know, like, in other words I want to see opportunities for mainstreaming because I think, you know honestly I think as we mainstream all students as much as possible, you know assuming we are not having, there’s not a disruption, that we all become, it’s better for all our humanity.”

Student Wellness

Question from moderator – What are your thoughts about how New Hampshire’s schools can support the gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning youth?

“I think we have to support all our students, period.”

Question from moderator – what will you do to increase awareness of sexual health in schools, and how do you see schools tackling these difficult yet necessary subjects in a modern and timely way?

“Yep, so what I will tell you is, again, it’s going to be working with the schools. and we have another one of our excellent staff, is a woman named Mary Steady…who works on these programs to provide supports into the schools and the community to help them stand up these programs that encourage young people, you know, towards good outcomes for their lives…the reason why you do that is because when you have good outcomes there, you’ll have good educational outcomes.”

Over the coming weeks, Reaching Higher looks forward to exploring the issues and priorities highlighted above with greater detail and analysis. New Hampshire has long been a national leader in education because our towns and cities – parents, business leaders, and community-members – are deeply committed to their local schools. In that spirit, we will explore these priorities and the best practices that could inform them.