When he walked in the room, it was impossible not to notice. Looking something like a high-IQ hybrid of Seth Godin and Anthony Robbins, his aura bespoke the traits one might associate with such an eclectic pedigree: strong, confident, intelligent, outside the box.
As the leader of the California Department of Education’s After School Division, now in its organizational adolescence, Michael Funk has generated a reputation. I hadn’t met him before, but I had heard his name used with reverence in many an educational conversation, I had read about him and he had even followed my OST Training (@rickrood1) persona on Twitter.
Now, here he was, in person, at the quarterly meeting of the leadership team for the California Afterschool Network. He hadn’t been on the original agenda, but was added at the last minute by the team leader.
What he said surprised me (and I think many in the room). While we were expecting some request — perhaps to create more OST alignment with Common Core, or maybe figure out how to track and quantify the “expanded learning” that occurs in state-funded OST programs — what he stated was a simple directive about professionalism.
He said the OST field must embrace and integrate site coordinators into the leadership structure in more profound and real ways than they currently are being included, beginning with convening together at statewide and/or regional professional conferences.
Site coordinators: those front-line OST professionals who, day in and day out, lead, organize and put the OST plans on the ground. They are the quarterbacks of their teams — expected to know the playbook, be grounded in strategy and be able to lead even the greenest neophytes in a coordinated effort toward a strategic goal. They don’t sit in offices, surrounded by educational theory, even though their brains may be steeped in it — they have their shoulder to the plow, side by side with those who they lead.
When he spoke his words, I cheered inside — yes! Yes! YES! Finally, someone from outside the OST “establishment” could clearly see that the front-line staff of the out-of-school-time world needed to be recognized, acknowledged and professionalized.
My excitement, however, was short-lived. Almost immediately, there was murmuring from a contingent of the leadership team that meant: How can we expect site coordinators to attend professional development conferences when they are paid so little and have no budget for professional development?
And then, at least for me, the true nature of the problem became plain.
Until we pay front-line staff as professionals and give them budgets and resources commensurate of what we expect from them, we will always have this disconnect where front-line staff are devalued by the “professional” administrators and government purse-string-holders. The OST field will not advance in practice (though government programs have designed the field to increase the number of workers).
And where will the money come from? That will be the subject of a thousand more essays in the future … that will be eloquently written and vigorously debated, provided one thing happens… and that one keystone event is the systematic professionalization and valuation of OST front-line workers as more than replaceable cogs in an ancillary wheel of the American education system.
Michael Funk is right: We need to integrate front-line site coordinators into the leadership; we need to involve them in the political, intellectual and professional life of the OST world. And with their involvement and voice, the OST world will be bound to change for the better.
Rick Rood is a 25-year front-line veteran of the out-of-school-time profession and author of the book “Games Teachers Play Before the Bell Rings.”