Dear friends and colleagues:
Just over three years ago, I was honored to join the SC Future Minds team in a critical mission for the state of South Carolina: to connect private resources to public education, and to strengthen our school system as a driver of economic and social progress. Our work is anchored in the needs of communities and companies, the experience of teachers, and the best future for our students; and I am grateful to each of you for your support along the way.
As I transition from SCFM CEO to SCFM Donor, I am thrilled that the Board of Directors has named Debbie Jones as Interim Executive Director. Debbie helped start SCFM ten years ago and has served as Program Director for the past three years. Her vision and tenacity have fueled SCFM’s growth, and I know great things are ahead under her leadership.
The last three years have been filled to the brim with lessons for me—an education in public education, if you will. While it would probably take another three years to write them all down, I wanted to share some of my biggest takeaways.
1) We can’t afford to not work together.
When it comes to public education, resources are scarce and our children (and legislators) need us now. Having studied the public education landscape in South Carolina, I am convinced that our state is rich in great ideas and organizations, but not nearly enough money is being invested in the coordination of our direct service programs or our advocacy efforts across the state. SC Future Minds is poised to help fix this problem, and with the support of corporate philanthropy and community foundations, I know a coordinated statewide effort will not only optimize donor investments but also help our policymakers improve conditions for teachers and students.
2) Investing now means saving later.
It is a most unfortunate flaw of human nature that we consistently make decisions based on instant gratification rather than long-term sustainability. Personally, this flaw goes something like this: Why yes, I’d love another scoop of ice cream; I’ll deal with my sugar addiction later! When it comes to policy-making, it’s more like: Why yes, we’ll give your company a tax break; we’ll deal with not having enough money for roads, schools, and pensions later! The result is, more often than not, policies that seem economically prudent now, but when weighed against future costs, make no sense at all. Whether we’re talking about teacher retention or student remediation, we must be willing to assess costs and benefits with a long-term view, making upstream investments now in order to save money (and livelihoods) in the future.
3)Teachers are heroes. But they can’t do it alone.
There is no such thing as school reform or improvement without the enthusiastic endorsement of educators who are on the front lines of our schools. But the nature of our political and policy making system means that teachers likely won’t be able to bring about those reforms on their own. They need the help of the most influential group in our state—the business community. Private sector leaders are uniquely positioned to advocate for our public schools—in so doing, they not only honor our teachers and students but also ensure that their future workforce will be prepared for an evolving economy.
4)We have symptomitis.
I’m coining a new term: symptomitis. Symptomitis is a reversible condition in which we continue to spend lots of time and money on the symptoms of a struggling system rather than the root causes. The condition is not unique to South Carolina but endemic across the nation. The prognosis in public education is the unfulfilled potential of generations of children. The remedy is provision of healthcare, high quality early education, and livable wages for working families (including teachers), at a minimum.
In other words, if we want to improve public education, we must see investment in our schools as one part of a holistic approach to community development and prosperity. Only then will we recover from symptomitis.
I share these lessons with gratitude for your continued investment in South Carolina’s future minds. It has been an honor working with you on their behalf.