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Open Letter to Teachers

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Visit the Dayton Daily News Voters Guide and see more questions and replies from Dr. Solomito.

Question from Madison Education Association Event on October 10.
What is the role of the superintendent as you understand it? What qualities should a successful superintendent possess?

In business, a company has a Board of Directors and a chief operating officer. This is the type of relationship that I envision between the school board, the superintendent, the teachers and the community. The community are the customers. The teachers are the employees trying to provide a quality product to the customers. The school board is the Board of Directors which decides the long-range plans and goals for the business (the school district) and the approaches to be used in providing the product. The superintendent is the focal point between the school board, the teachers and the community whose responsibility it is to implement those plans and approaches and to provide day-to-day supervision of the district in order to ensure that those goals are being met. A successful superintendent must have a thorough understanding of the educational process, the mandates of the regulatory agencies, the strengths and weaknesses of the district and the “people skills” to be able to work with all of these varied individuals harmoniously.

Question from Madison Education Association Event on October 10.
Madison educators are looking to support candidates who will commit to 4 key attributes:

  1. transparency and dialogue
  2. informed, but willing to listen
  3. invested in the community
  4. will put the success of students and teachers first

How will you contribute to each of these attributes?
How will you work to build and maintain relationships with students, parents and educators?

If I may, I would like to address these 2 questions together because I have a very specific proposal that encompasses all of these issues. Some of this answer will be reprinted from my previously published positions. 
I would like to introduce you to a concept which we have found to be extraordinarily successful in the healthcare field, that of “Shared Governance”.  One of the biggest challenges facing the healthcare industry is retention of nursing personnel. Nurses, like teachers, are frequently underpaid in relationship to their contribution to society. They must deal with challenging schedules and, maybe even more importantly, in spite of their professional qualifications, have traditionally had very little control over their work environment. This has produced, in the past, significant job dissatisfaction and has triggered frequent career changes. Very undesirable in a healthcare setting. Is any of this starting to sound familiar? For those of you who would like a more in-depth discussion of this concept and its impact on the field of nursing I would offer the following link:

In industry, this concept has its origins in the 1960s and became more popular in the 80s and 90s. The goal is to increase “autonomy, empowerment, involvement and participation in decision-making” among the individuals who are providing the ultimate services. This concept, in the healthcare industry, recognizes that nurses, by virtue of their specialized knowledge and training are uniquely positioned to have a positive impact on the quality and cost-effectiveness of the services that they are providing.  I have had intimate experience with this model and have seen it transform the work environment of our nursing staff. Over the years, the more familiar that I have become with it, the more similarities that I have seen between the healthcare industry in its relationship with nurses and the educational system in its relationship with teachers.  I recently met with our chief operating officer at Atrium, who was instrumental in implementing this program at the hospital, in order to discuss this idea and try to figure out if it was feasible to also apply it to education, since she is more familiar with the program than anyone I know.  Obviously, the details of implementation are going to be different in the two industries but after that meeting I am more convinced than ever that this can work in a school district. There are so many similarities. In healthcare, outside organizations such as CMS and ODH set the standards that we have to adhere to just as in education state and federal agencies set minimum standards that must be met. Both industries involve direct contact with and provide vital services to people, patients and students, and frequently must do it on limited budgets.  And, perhaps most importantly, in both industries those services are provided by specialized, well trained and dedicated professionals. In hospitals, silly things can lead to waste and inefficiency. Transducers are ordered that aren’t compatible with the catheters that they are supposed to work with. In schools, silly things also happen, like the time we ordered textbooks that were not written to be used with the laptops that we already had and that were going to be utilized in that particular course. (Okay, this was quite some time ago but you get the idea) Who are the best people to protect us against these follies? The well-trained professionals who are providing the ultimate end-user services. You guys. 
So how could something like this work? First of all, we identify areas where we could or should be doing a better job. Maybe it’s how we go about scheduling extracurricular activities so that a baseball tournament at the primary school doesn’t conflict with a musical at the high school. Or how we allocate capital expenditures.  Should we be shifting funds from capital budget to operational budget or vice a versa. Or whether it is appropriate to have the same size class for a course such as Spanish-I as it would be for Introduction to algebra. Or maybe it’s something as simple as what time of day faculty meetings should be held. I don’t know the day-to-day challenges that many of you face but you certainly do. The first step is for the rank-and-file teachers to identify aspects of their daily work environments that need to be improved. The 2nd step is to construct a framework within which designated “leaders” can work with other individuals facing similar challenges to try to flesh out solutions to these problems and the 3rd step is to provide a forum whereby these groups can present these solutions to the administration and participate in the discussions which ultimately determine if and how they are adopted. Let me take a quote from the article that I cited above. “Governance models that are based on these ideals should translate into the realities of the organization through organizational designs that allow nurses the freedom to fully participate in the practice of nursing and in shaping the work environment in which patient care occurs.” Now, substitute “teacher or teaching” for “nurse or nursing” and substitute “teaching students” for “patient care” and you have the idea that I am proposing. For Pete’s sakes, this concept even worked for the Harley Davidson motorcycle company in the 1980s when it was trying to recover from its disastrous association with AMF.  Get the people who are doing the work to help you figure out the best way to do it.  If this sounds a little radical for the educational industry, well maybe that’s an indication that the educational industry needs to catch up with the rest of our industries.
There is a 2nd part to this whole concept and that is transparency. Look, the reality is that none of us, no matter what job environment we are in, are ever going to get everything that we want.  A negotiator once told me that when he settles a dispute, both sides usually walk away a little discontent but ultimately feeling that they got a fair deal. He told me that if one side felt totally happy with the result, he probably cheated the other side. In my career I have occasionally had to implement unpopular policies and frequently have had to live with policies that I found less than ideal. What I have learned however is that if you want people to buy into a concept, they have to feel like they have ownership in it and in order to feel like they have ownership of it they have to be involved in the creation of it.  When I am presented with a policy that I find undesirable, I rebel.  But when I have been involved in the step by step the creation of that policy, when I have weighed the pros and cons along with my colleagues and when I have independently come to the conclusion that, undesirable as it may appear, it is the best option available, I may still not like it very much but I understand it and accept it.  I sense that many of you are feeling the same type of frustration that I felt some months ago when a particular policy at the hospital was imposed on me that I strenuously objected to.  It did not make any sense and I was amazed at the stupidity and shortsightedness of the individuals who put it together. And then I was brought into the loop. I became part of the team that was given the responsibility of redesigning the policy. Well, the short version is that what we finally came up with, with some minor changes, bore a remarkable resemblance to the original policy that I objected to. I still wish there was a better way to do it but now I understand and accept why it had to be the way it was.  I would like to bring as many people into the loop as possible in our school district. Not just because it will enable them to “see the light” and accept the inevitable but because maybe, just maybe, they might actually have a better idea.
This concept of shared governance is fairly common in higher education. It is found in many colleges but it’s adaptation to local school districts has been quite limited. It has on occasion, however, been used in local school districts, and quite successfully. Probably the best example of this that I have found is in the Salt Lake City school district. I have obtained a copy of their Shared Governance Guide Working Document and I believe this can form a framework for a similar approach at Madison Local Schools.  There are obviously going to be differences since Salt Lake City is a much larger school district but I believe this will be a starting point. The approach used in Salt Lake City also incorporates the community into the model. I would not advocate doing this as a first step since overreaching could kill the program before got off the ground but I believe if we prove the concept with the teachers and staff, it could be expanded to the community as well.

Question from Madison Education Association Event on October 10.
What are your top 3 goals as a member of the Madison Board of Education?

This one is pretty straightforward:

  1. Reduce or eliminate the trend for teacher out-migration. We have got to keep our qualified staff.
  2. Establish Madison Local Schools as a “magnet” which attracts quality staff from outside our district.
  3. To promote an environment where everyone who is interested in the education of our students, whether they be parents, community members, teachers, administrators or board members can communicate openly and respectfully in order to achieve our ultimate goal which is to prepare our children to successfully take our places in society.

Question from Madison Education Association Event on October 10.
What are your opinions on open discussion among board members during board meetings?

This one is not as straightforward. My experience with committees is that the larger the committee, the less there is that gets done. To invite everyone to participate in every discussion is almost a guarantee that none of those discussions will reach a conclusion. In addition, these discussions frequently involve people who live and/or work in our community and issues such as performance reviews, disciplinary actions, hirings and firings, promotions and demotions.  These types of discussions must be held in private because the reputations of people are at stake. I believe the shared governance model that I described above can incorporate a wider group of people in many of the policy discussions that the board has. It may indeed be appropriate to hold some discussions completely in public view but that would need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.  It is important to bear in mind that a school board, like most levels of government in our country, is not a true democracy but rather a representative democracy. It is not practical to put every issue to a referendum but rather we elect people in whom we have trust and who we believe share our goals and values to represent us in making decisions on our behalf.

Question from Madison Education Association Event on October 10.
What is your vision for the district? And what would you like to see accomplished during your term in office?

As I have stated publicly previously, some of the most successful businesses in our country have achieved that success by incorporating the experience and knowledge of all of the members of the organization into the strategic plan. This has found its way into higher education but for the most part, has yet to trickle down into local school districts.  My vision, quite simply, is to have Madison school district be the thought leader in this regard. We are small enough and nimble enough to be able to do this and I would like us to be able to set the standard that other school districts will look to and try to emulate. As part of this, I would like to change a culture. It is my impression that there is a perceived wall between the district office and the rest of the district. That is one place where a wall should not exist. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, we must tear down that wall.

Question from Madison Education Association Event on October 10.
Why have you become a candidate for Madison Local School Board of Education, and what qualifications and unique considerations make you an especially good board candidate?

To answer this question I am going to, in part, quote from my previously published, “open letter to teachers”.   It may sound corny but the reason that I am running for this position is because I truly would like to give back to the community that I have lived in and because I am passionate about our school district. When my daughter started school in first grade here at Madison, as a result of mismanagement of her preschool education, she was fully 2 grades behind in essential skills such as reading and mathematics. By the time she graduated high school she was a straight A honor student, a member of the National Honor Society and the recipient of more awards than I ever hoped to win in high school. She has recently finished her summer session at Wright State University as a mathematics and statistics major with straight A’s. This academic achievement was made possible by the extraordinary dedication of the men and women in the Madison Local School District and I am forever in your debt. Now it is my turn to try to repay that debt. There is also a simple practical reason for wanting a strong, high quality school district. It is better for the community. When a new family is thinking of moving into a community, what is the first question that they ask? It is not “where is the nearest store”. It is not “do you have good roads?” The first question that almost every family asks is “how good are the schools?” Even for a family that does not have any children in the school system, the better the schools, the more desirable the community and, consequently, the higher the property values. Those of you that know me personally know that I value our teachers as the single most important asset in our school system and it troubles me greatly that so many have chosen to leave, many of whom I have considered personal friends.  We must find a way to reverse this trend.
In approaching the challenges of the school board, I draw heavily on my experience in the healthcare profession because many of the challenges are so similar. In the hospital world we have what is called the Magnet Recognition Program. A hospital can be designated a “Magnet Hospital” by meeting standards of nursing excellence which therefore causes the hospital to become a much more desirable work environment for nurses and acts as a “magnet” for quality nursing staff. I want to apply the same principles to our school district so that we will become a magnet for quality teachers. I believe I have the practical leadership experience to achieve this. For the last 10 years I have been Chief of Cardiology at Atrium Medical Center. I started and was the Medical Director of the Chest Pain Center and have functioned as the medical director for the Echocardiography Department and the Coronary Care Unit.  I have been, and still am, a member of the Medical Executive Committee which is responsible for overseeing all aspects of medical staff activity at the hospital. I am a member of the Medical Staff Quality Assurance Committee, which, as its name suggests, is responsible for supervising and maintaining the quality of the healthcare delivered at the hospital.  What these various roles have given me is the experience and insight necessary to start new programs, ensure their continued success, work successfully with a wide diversity of individuals, create programs to ensure high quality results and the ability to formulate “outside the box” solutions to complex problems.
Finally, I have a passion for teaching. Before moving to Ohio, I spent 4 years at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans as an assistant professor of medicine and for 3 of those years as the director of the Cardiology Fellowship Training Program.  To this day, I continuously and routinely organize lectures and seminars for the staff at the hospital on various cardiology topics. I have a reputation for stopping in the middle of rounds (much to the chagrin of our nurse practitioners who are trying to move me along to get rounds completed) if I happen to see a group of nursing students or medical students in order to give them an impromptu lecture on whatever they happen to be studying at the moment.

Question from Madison Education Association Event on October 10.
What is the role of the Madison Board of Education as you understand it? What qualities should a successful board member possess to promote and support success with the superintendent, teachers and community?

In general, a school board is responsible for determining the direction and priorities of the school district, establishing a framework to meet those goals, providing the supervision and guidance necessary to the staff to achieve these goals, acting as an interface with the community to ensure that community standards, values and concerns are addressed and as much as possible incorporated into those priorities while meeting state mandated goals as well as to act as an advocate for the students in assuring that their educational requirements are met.  A board member must be able to work harmoniously with a wide group of diverse individuals, listen to varying opinions, formulate strategy without preconceived prejudice and be able to objectively articulate their reasons for adopting a position. The members of the school board, superintendent, teachers and community are never going to agree all the time on every issue. A board member must be able to defend their position based on facts and experience rather than on emotion and hyperbole and, perhaps most importantly, acknowledge that sometimes someone else may actually have a better idea, and when this happens be willing to acknowledge it and change their minds if necessary.

Does he support the ability for staff and teachers to assist in protecting all students and them selves from harm ?

The issue of arming teachers in the classroom has become a much talked about and emotionally charged issue in our community. We have endured a tragedy that most communities do not have to face, the reality of an armed assailant in our school trying to harm our children. Like many of you, I had a student in the school that day. She was not in the cafeteria at the time but was no more than 50 feet down the hall. The thoughts that go through your mind when you get a call like that cannot be described or appreciated by anyone who has not experienced it. For us, it is not a theoretical question it is a reality that we never want to see repeated. I respect the fact that there are opinions on both sides of this matter and I truly believe that everyone only has one goal in mind, how do we best protect our children. No one wants to do anything to intentionally put them at greater risk or to diminish what should be fond memories of their high school experience. So, what is the best approach?
Well, we could do nothing. We could say, and we would be correct, that these incidents are uncommon when compared to the number of schools in our country and that the likelihood of any given school being attacked on any given day is so low as to be inconsequential. I don’t like this idea. While statistically, the likelihood of a school attack may be extremely low, the consequences are so devastating that I don’t believe it can be ignored. We had our one “wake-up call”. While it certainly could have been worse in so much as there was no loss of life, I doubt that is much consolation to those students and the families of those students that were injured that day, or came close to being injured. 
We could increase the number of school resource officers. I don’t think anyone would disagree that, all else being equal, a trained police officer is better equipped to deal with a violent threat than an armed citizen. Notice that I said “all else being equal” because as the students in Parkland Florida found out, the wrong school resource officer is the same as not having any at all. Luckily, our SRO is one of the finest I have ever met but how many are there out there of his caliber and how many would it take to really provide effective protection. Two? Five? Ten? With the average salary of a school resource officer being approximately $50,000 a year, 10 SROs would cost a half-million dollars a year. Every year. One thing that I know for sure is that our district does not have that much excess money lying around. It still would not put an SRO in every possible location that a shooter could attack but it probably would be a significant deterrent. What type of image would that present to our students and visitors to our school? I have heard the argument that an armed policeman provides reassurance to a student. That may be true when there is one policeman but is that also true when there is a policeman in every hallway or near every doorway? Or will they feel like they are in some type of prison? I don’t know but it is really a moot point because our district doesn’t have that kind of money anyway. 
So now we come down to the question of allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons. Is it a good idea or a bad idea? Is it likely to stop a crime or is it more likely to injure innocent people?
In my “day job” we practice what is called “evidence-based medicine”. What that means is that we don’t make decisions just because it sounds good or sounds bad but rather we make our decisions based on actual data. The reason we do this is that the stakes are so high, and I think this is a situation where we should take the same approach. There are 2 parts to this question. The first part is, does an armed victim have an advantage over an unarmed victim. If the answer to this question is yes then the 2nd part of the question is, “is it safe to do this in a classroom”. There is a huge amount of data on the first part of this question and it is not easy to analyze, mainly because depending on whether the presenter of the data is “pro-gun” or “anti-gun” it can be collected and presented in a way that seems to support either position. A detailed analysis of that data is well beyond this post however it is my conclusion after looking at as much of this information as I could find, both for and against, is that if I were to find myself in a life-threatening situation, I would rather have the ability to defend myself with a firearm than not have that ability. Others may disagree and I respect their right to have a differing opinion. I also have had a personal experience which would strongly support that position and I would be happy to discuss it with anyone in person but I don’t feel it’s appropriate to post some things on social media.
So now the question is, is there a reason this should not apply to the school setting. Is there actual evidence to suggest this is a bad idea
Armed teachers in schools are not as uncommon as one might assume. In Texas alone, 172 school districts or 17% of the total are reported to have armed teachers. In Ohio 63 of our 88 counties have at least one district with armed teachers for a total of 152 districts as of early 2016. Across the country, all but 12 states either allow or already have in place armed teachers in their school districts. Precise national numbers of districts which allow armed teachers are hard to come by because many districts choose not to publicize this information. Suffice it to say it is not all that uncommon. I have researched and read as much information, both pro and con on this topic as I could reasonably find. There are a multitude of “opinions” out there but when it comes to actual cold hard facts, I have not found any convincing data to suggest that this is a bad idea. There are isolated anecdotes about individuals who have dropped or accidentally discharged a firearm on school premises. Ironically, these anecdotes seem to involve trained police officers as often as armed civilians and none of them directly relate to the concept of allowing teachers to be armed in school. Based on the research that I have done, I do not find any compelling evidence to suggest that arming teachers either has, or is likely to present a danger to either the students or the teachers. As a result, I am in favor of allowing teachers who desire to do so and who have been adequately trained, to carry firearms in school. 
As I have said in a previous post, I think every elected official has the obligation to listen to the community that they represent and to be willing, if they are presented with compelling arguments, to change their mind on any given topic. I am not so stubborn as to suggest that if solid, verifiable data were to be published suggesting that this position, or for that matter any other position that I might hold, should be reevaluated that I would refuse to do so. I am always willing to reopen discussions as new information becomes available but I believe this position to be correct based on the information at this time. 
I realize that this is a long answer to a straightforward question but I believe I have the obligation to our voters to not just give a knee-jerk response but to explain why I feel the way I do. That is the only way that a voter who does not know me personally can get a better insight into their candidate


Dr. Joseph Solomito

My Goal in Running For School Board:

To give back to the community that I have lived in for the last 25+ years. The very first time that I walked into a Madison School with our kids I was asked “How can we help your children?” I believe we have some of the most dedicated and talented teachers I have ever met, and my goal is to foster that dedication and to provide an educational environment where it can continue to grow.