Ridgway School Superintendent Thomas Butler Testifies Before the U.S. House Committee on Education & Labor

May 19, 2010 Issues: Education

Washington, D.C.—Dr. Thomas Butler, superintendent of Ridgway Area School District in Elk County, today testified before a U.S. House hearing on education stating that, “We need to transform our schools to meet the needs of the 21st century.” Dr. Butler said he faces three challenges to that transformation.
 
One of his challenges is that when they find exemplary programs it is difficult to find the time away from the classroom for the teachers to visit and learn from the program as other districts can be several hours away.  Another challenge is the need for additional training and education for the teachers.  It is often difficult to find higher education resources for professional development in a rural district.  Finally he said, “The number one challenge that I experience in my job is the statewide and national educational bureaucracy that increasingly is more ‘top-down’, leaving very little room for local control and flexibility on my part so I can respond to the actual situation in the school district.”  He said, “Sometimes we forget about what is best for the children.”

Butler testified at the request of U.S. Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, R-Howard, before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor as they examined, “Research and Best Practices on Successful School Turnaround.”

Butler was there to provide input on how the Committee can support successful school turnaround in rural areas as they begin to look at reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also currently known as “No Child Left Behind.”
 
Thompson was the co-chair of the hearing at the behest of Ranking Minority Member John Kline of Minnesota, who had to be at another hearing.

“Today’s hearing addresses an issue critically important to the academic success of our nation’s students.  In 2001, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires states and each school district to ensure students are proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-2014 school years,” Thompson explained. “For schools that are unable to make what their state has defined as “adequate yearly progress” toward achieving that goal, the law establishes a process to improve these struggling schools and protect the best interests of the students.”

Earlier this year, Thompson solicited comments from superintendents, school boards, teachers, and families across the Fifth Congressional district, in order to let their input serve as a guide for the upcoming ESEA reauthorization (the solicitation is attached).

Butler credits the turnaround at Ridgway to teacher evaluation and collaboration that includes the teacher choosing two goals to accomplish for the school year.  Then he said the teacher associations were supportive and the school board focused on student achievement and instruction and created five-year goals for student achievement and instruction.

Butler said that one of the solutions for small rural school districts is to have quality broadband internet access in the community and then to make sure that the schools have the capacity to utilize the technology and integrate it into virtual training.

“As policymakers at the federal level, we must remember each school is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  The Obama administration has introduced—and even promoted—several changes to the school improvement system that require school districts to implement one of only four school turnaround models,” Thompson said in his opening statement.

“There are a number of concerns, shared by members in both political parties, with the administration’s approach, which represents a more intrusive federal role in education policy that is better left to parents and state and local leaders.”

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