An Opportunity Worth Pursuing

My name is Chad Aldis, and I’m the latest addition to the Fordham Ohio team as Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy. This is an important and exciting time to be involved in education policy in the Buckeye state. We are led by Governor Kasich who has a passion for education and has made it an important issue in his first two budgets. The governor alone can’t move the achievement needle, though. He has had the support of committed legislators, from both parties, who are intensely interested in increasing student achievement.

The result of recent education reform has been a new “Straight A Fund” to identify and support promising reforms, promising city-based reform plans with leadership from strong mayors in Cleveland and Columbus, a continued push to implement world-class educational standards in Ohio schools, an expansion of programs to empower parents with educational options, and a growing belief that the quality of education matters whether the education occurs in a traditional public school, public charter school, or a private school using public funding.

This is a little atypical for a Gadfly article in that it won’t be as hard hitting as you’ve come to expect. Don’t worry though as we’ll have a lot of opportunities for that over the coming months and years. Like my predecessor and dear friend Terry Ryan before me, the Fordham team and I will continue to tackle the tough issues facing education in Ohio. In this first article though I want to give our loyal readers a better understanding of who I am and what drives me.

To me, education is first and foremost about opportunity. It is still the best pathway to achieving the American dream. My own background has contributed greatly to this belief.

I grew up in a small river town in eastern Iowa. It was a community hit hard by the farm crisis of the 80’s. There were many families that struggled financially, and my family was no exception. From the age of 2 until 10, my mother and I lived on our own—often with the help of public assistance. Times were tough, but I was fortunate to attend a solid public school that gave me an opportunity to succeed. I can’t recall being a great student in the early years. I was too busy playing whatever sport was in season and trying to make people laugh.

One day near the middle of fourth grade, my life changed. It wasn’t the classic tale of tragedy. I didn’t suffer a great loss. It was just an ordinary day when my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Sherwood, called my best friend and me back to her desk. I was guessing I’d joked around a little too much and was preparing myself to receive a reprimand, but that didn’t happen.

Instead, she pointed down to a printout on her desk and asked if we knew what the numbers meant. We didn’t. She said that the numbers were our test results on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and we had done extremely well. In fact, I still remember her saying that it showed that if we worked hard we could do anything we wanted in life.

This was news to me. No one in my family had ever gone to college. In fact, no one in my immediate family had ever graduated from high school. I didn’t ever dream of a future where I could be a doctor, lawyer, or scientist. I was convinced that I was going to be a baseball player. I can’t ever recall discussing with my family what I might do when I grew up. Don’t misunderstand me though; my family had instilled in me a strong work ethic, an unwavering belief in the value of honesty and integrity, and a desire to always do the “right” thing. I’d just never thought about what that meant in an academic context or for my future.

After that conversation, my trajectory changed. I had high expectations for myself and worked incredibly hard for the next 8 years to try to get to college. I was incredibly fortunate to be in a school system that despite its resource limitations did its best to nurture my talents and abilities. The list of teachers that supported me is long, but it all started with Mrs. Sherwood.

Fast forward to today a full twenty three years after my high school graduation, I have three children of my own. They are all smart, capable children who I have tremendous love for and pride in. Their life experiences though are vastly different than mine.

Objectively speaking, they have a lot of advantages. The opportunity given to me has been passed down to them. They have the good fortune to attend a high quality public school with a wide variety of AP courses and electives, the time and attention of two parents who are their advocates at school and in life, a myriad of extra and co-curricular activities to participate in, a house with thousands of books available at all times, strict rules and limitations on the usage of television and other electronics, and, perhaps most importantly, an unwavering expectation that they should do their very best in all that they do.

Life is hard. My children’s future, like those of other Ohio children, is uncertain and will be what they make of it. I work in education because I believe that every child should have the opportunity that I had (and that my children have) to reach his or her full potential. In my view, education is still the best path to achieve that goal and that means that our schools have to do their part to make that possible. I will work tirelessly to help make that a reality.

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