Voices - With Sydnee Dickson and Karla Estrada   Voices


How do we balance the rights of individual students with those of the larger school community?

We asked the same question of two education leaders. Here is what they told us.

Be grounded in your beliefs about the power of education.

The right to a quality education, I believe, is a human right. As an educational leader, I repeatedly return to this core belief when making difficult decisions. Education has the power to drive equity as well as inequities. It has the ability to shape communities and change individual lives, both positively and negatively. Schools are incubators for future successes in our society and have the ability to serve as the center of a neighborhood. Having access to a quality education is essential to being able to participate meaningfully in society and in a community. Moreover, there is extensive research on how education is a key predictor to having a positive quality of life. For individuals who have overcome a variety of socially constructed barriers, such as poverty, institutional racism, biases and microaggressions, education has opened us to opportunities and changed our lives. Given the power and impact of a quality education, a decision can not impede an individual’s ability to access it – to do so would be a human rights violation.

The complexity of balancing the rights of an individual student and that of a larger school community requires a leader to also balance leading with her heart and mind
Picture of school aged girl outside leaning on graffiti post - The Line Issue 3 - Bring others to the table to listen and learn.

“It is important to remember that a student who walked in to your school yesterday is not the same as the student that walks in your school today.”
Karla Estrada, Deputy Superintendent, Boston Public Schools

“Each” generally describes a way of seeing the students in the schools as individuals, while “every” might describe students as members of a group. “All” literally means the collective group of students. We might think of the greater school community as a collective of individual students. While there is a subtle difference among the words, the intentionality of focus on culture to set the conditions for success is built upon the differences in these words.

I have found that the collective good of the school community is only as “good” as the success of each student. When the needs of individual students are attended to, schools as a whole are more successful.
Each fall I visit schools across my state. I hear frustrations with policies, lack of resources and the increasing challenges students bring to school. But I also see deliberate efforts to ensure each student has access to a quality education.

An urban high school with many students living in poverty meets basic needs with a food pantry, clothing and personal essentials boutique, and a shower/laundry room. Course offerings include “techniques for troubled times” to help students develop and maintain skills of conflict resolution, problem solving, effective communication and self-confidence.

A high school aged boy with his face partially obscured to allude lack of freedom

“… the collective good of the school community is only as “good” as the success of each student.”
Sydnee Dickson, State Superintendent Public Instruction, Utah

Red Head Female with scarf and nose ring

Amitai Etzioni in “The New Normal: Finding a Balance Between Individual Rights and the Common Good” purports that neither individual rights nor the common good should be privileged, that both are core values, and that a balance is necessary between them. Perhaps, then, placing high value on equitable access to high quality education for each and every student in the school system will provide the balance necessary to actualize both individual success and collective betterment of the community.

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Be adaptive to the changing needs of students and school communities.

From a practical perspective, I wonder how these recommendations would be manifested differently or similarly in a virtual school.