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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Top ed official really a visionary

Jon Craig reports from Columbus:

Most of the public, including Gov. Ted Strickland, doesn’t know the visionary side of the state’s top policymaker for education, several state Board of Education members said Tuesday.

They spoke in defense of Susan Tave Zelman’s during breaks at the first meeting of the 19-member state board since Strickland openly criticized Zelman during an editorial board meeting of the Enquirer.

Zelman, the independently appointed state schools superintendent, challenged the state Board of Education Tuesday to dig deeper to glean the best ways to bring innovation and creativity back to Ohio. Sher made her rare public remarks during reports on how the state education board's work meshes with education plans proposed by Gov. Ted Strickland and Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut.

"I think we're still at its infancy. . .in terms of understanding how the brain works,'' Zelman said. "I think we're just beginning to scratch the surface.''

Zelman's comments came at the first regular board meeting since Strickland questioned her vision at an Enquirer editorial board last month. They also come as the state school board prepares to give her an annual review in June at a meeting where board members expect to make sweeping recommendations to the state legislature and governor on how to proceed in overhauling the school system academically and financially. The state Supreme Court has ruled several times that Ohio's system of funding schools is inadequate and overly reliant on property taxes.

On March 13, speaking to Enquirer editors and reporters, Strickland called Zelman "an academician, a psychometrician, a statistician. But she's not an Eric Fingerhut, a visionary leader. . . She's a very bright person who contributes a lot to education, but she's not carrying out that


It also was announced today that the governor's education policy assistant plans to attend the June meeting, a fact confirmed by Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey.

Some board members have criticized the governor for not sending top staff to the school board meetings.

Calling a high school in Shanghai, China, the most exciting she'd ever seen, and innovative programs in India and at progressive American engineering schools, Zelman said the next step for the school board is to "go deeper into research literature on innovation and creativity (and) see what we can glean and bring back to Ohio."

Several Cincinnati-area members of the 19-member school board welcomed Zelman's comments, calling her a quiet leader behind the scenes.

"We actually have been doing a lot of this preliminary work for years,'' said Jane Sonenshein of Loveland. "The legislature has to make it happen. Dr. Zelman has been extremely supportive of the thought processes. Dr. Zelman has made many changes that they need to make that nobody really had touched."

Sonenshein and other board members heard staff reports showing that the board, governor and chancellor actually agree in most areas. "There is a whole lot of agreement in where we want to go,'' Sonenshein said.

Susan Haverkos agreed that the public doesn't get to see this side of Zelman, which board members experience private conversations.

"We don't get to see that a lot publicly,'' Haverkos said of Zelman's remarks. "We see it a lot on a one-on-one basis. The board works best when we don't all agree."

Even so, both Haverkos and Ann Womer Benjamin, a former state legislator from Portage County, are concerned that squabbles among the governor, legislature and school board can lead to gridlock instead of doing what's best for Ohio schoolchildren.

Womer Benjamin also said she'd like to see more action taken by the board, instead of more study.

"This is the beginning of a journey,'' said board member Steven Millett. "This is a milestone in a journey."


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