15 Principals, One United Voice

Melissa Fink poses with Secretary Duncan during her visit to ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Melissa Fink poses with Secretary Duncan during her visit to ED. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

A version of this post originally appeared on the Jones Elementary School blog.

What happens when you pull together 15 principals from Arkansas, Indiana, New York, Montana, California, Louisiana, Illinois, New Jersey, Tennessee, Kansas and Idaho together for a meeting? One united voice begins to emerge working to improve the quality of education for children in America.

I was recently invited to Washington, D.C., to participate in a round table discussion at the U.S. Department of Education. We were privileged to meet with Secretary Arne Duncan, Assistant Secretary of Education Deb Delisle and other senior staff members.

Prior to attending the meeting, I was very reluctant to voice my opinion in public. I had a preconceived notion no one cared what a principal from Arkansas thought. I never imagined myself talking to leaders of a federal agency.

When I received the invitation to visit ED, I felt many emotions. I felt humbled and honored to be selected to be part of a prestigious group. I felt scared because I was traveling far away to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I felt intimidated because I had never been placed in the political spotlight. I felt inadequate to speak to such important people.

My fears and insecurities began to melt away the first evening in D.C. We had an informal dinner to meet our colleagues. I started to feel more comfortable as we talked about our schools, our communities and our personal lives. It became apparent that although we came from different backgrounds, served in different communities, led diverse staffs, taught children from all ethnic backgrounds and social statuses, we had many similar ideas regarding best educational practices.

The next morning, we arrived at ED ready to meet with leadership.

As we met with different officials, it was apparent that they all wanted to learn from us. The day was spent with reciprocal learning happening around us — us learning from them — them learning from us.

The time we spent with Secretary Duncan felt very natural and relaxed, as well. He entered into the room with his sleeves rolled up and was eager to learn from us. It was a great meeting!

If I had to sum up my experience with one word, I would say it was empowering. My experience in Washington, D.C. has opened my world. I am now serving on several state level committees to improve education for Arkansas students. I have also begun to contact my state legislators and representatives to encourage policy makers to make decisions in the best interest of students. I’ve also been given the opportunity to address the Arkansas State Board of Education to discuss best teaching and leadership practices.

Before my trip, I was nervous about taking action. Now, after stepping out of my comfort zone, I feel empowered to be the voice for children everywhere. I take comfort in knowing the other 14 administrators I became friends with are also fighting this courageous battle with me although we are miles apart. It was a great experience and one I would highly recommend to anyone.

Melissa Fink is Principal of Jones Elementary School in Springdale, Arkansas.

Learn more about Jones Elementary and how the teachers work with Fink to encourage their students to succeed.