Guest column | Tony Byrd: The brilliance of our students and coming together to support them
Summit School District superintendent
It is a joy to be your new superintendent of Summit School District. If you don’t know much about me, I am a proud father of two girls, Kylie, 21, and Taylor, 19, and have been married to Cherry Byrd for 23 years. I started my career in education as a bilingual 6th grade teacher in Los Angeles in 1993 and have been principal for nine years, a district leader for nine years, an adjunct lecturer at two universities in Washington, and a nonprofit leader. I completed my master’s degrees at Stanford and my doctoral degree at the University of Washington. I have family in Colorado, lived near Aspen in the ’90s, love the outdoors, and the district’s graduate profile and strategic plan are a great match for how I see the world of educating youth in today’s rapidly changing world. I also speak Spanish, and I knew there would be a great opportunity here for me to use the language to serve the community.
In an attempt to understand the assets and needs of our students, I have made a point of being in our schools and hearing from them as part of my entry into Summit County as your new superintendent of schools. I see and hear a thousand points of brilliance — students with passion and joy, students who care about each other, a rich set of histories and cultures and incredible talent. Their potential is immense, but many are also struggling. Many feel alone. Many feel ostracized. Many feel they don’t actually belong here.
We have a unique opportunity to really listen to the voices of our students and find ways to come together in support of them. Sadly, this is not what I see happening across the country. Instead, we are deeply polarized and entrenched — presenting one set of views and rarely listening to anyone with a different perspective than our own. This indirectly, and directly, impacts our schools. Our students know we are not generally great at listening to each other. They see it, they hear it, they read it on social media, and some have shared that with me.
There has been a great deal of discussion about our below average test scores on social media, around the community and in this paper. As people who work with me can attest to, I will be the first in line to join you in the concern about how many of our students are doing academically. There is no argument from me on this. That said, we run a grave risk of focusing only on the deficits in our system and missing the brilliance of our students, their families and the incredible staff that work tirelessly to support them. We miss the chance to come together in support of them.
We need to find more and more ways to see the assets in our youth and our people that support them in order to build the most collaborative, forward-thinking educational space in the nation. We can do this by coming out from behind social media and being in conversation with one another. We can do this by listening. We can do this by seeking to understand the lived experiences of people who are different from ourselves. Our students deserve this, and they are telling me that we are not really doing this as well as we could be.
Our world is complicated, and it will require an incredible set of skills from our youth to navigate it well. Yes, they will need to be great at reading, writing and math, but they will also need to be excellent critical thinkers and collaborators who have a unique ability to be flexible in a rapidly changing set of environments and with people who have a range of world views.
To get to this level of learning, we need to support their basic skills, and we need to see their wisdom and come together as a community in support of them. Fortunately, there are so many amazing people doing just this right now here, and it is one of the reasons I decided to come to Summit County. Let’s build on these strengths in the name of our students.
Tony Byrd is superintendent of Summit School District. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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