With political leaders aiming negativity at the nation’s public schools recently, community-level faith leaders can play an important role in undoing the harm by delivering strong supportive messages, according to panelists at an AASA conference session on Saturday morning.
Kent P. Scribner, superintendent of Fort Worth Independent School District in Texas, and Charles Foster Johnson, founder and executive director of Pastors for Children based in Dallas, detailed how politicians have inflicted a “bad reputation” on public schools and taken advantage of social tensions to push private school vouchers as public policy and oppose equity efforts in the schools.
Strategic partnerships with teacher union leaders, PTA leaders, faith leaders of all spiritual journeys and other community moderators will help emphasize the voices of the public school community, the two presenters said.
The superintendent said he believes a passionate message coming from a community group or faith-based leader at school board meetings about the well-being of all students will override political opponents.
Johnson suggested the partnership would not allow preaching or pushing any religious ideas. Instead, the faith leader would be a spokesperson in their community for the district’s operations to help convey the moral importance of public education.
The audience’s main concern was how to keep church and state separate if faith leaders are speaking out about school issues.
Using organized groups is an untapped community resource that will benefit schools in many ways, Scribner said. Not only does it show a strong opposition to the negative narrative hanging over public schools right now, but it also opens the door for additional resources to benefit the school community.
The leaders in these organizations are among the taxpayers who fund these vouchers. In addition, many of them are experienced when it comes to public speaking.
“Who [is] a better candidate for this than the leaders in your community?” Johnson asked.
(Samara Penny is a reporting intern for Conference Daily Online and a junior at Judson High School, Converse, Texas.)