Dr. Gene Sharratt has taken on an extraordinary challenge as the head of the Washington Student Achievement Council, the cabinet-level state agency charged with improving student achievement and attainment. Sharratt took over the job on June 1 and has been working at his typical frenetic pace to move the organization forward.
Based on his track record of building relationships and rallying people around big ideas during his days as superintendent of the North Central Educational Service District, Gov. Jay Inslee couldn't have picked a better candidate to transform the council.
The agency replaced the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which was focused on higher education. That mandate was broadened to include early learning and K-12 education. It seems to make sense to have one educational system aligned to produce results.
Over dinner, Sharratt said he originally was uncertain about his ability to succeed at such a large task. During his interview, he recalled being asked whether he could do the job and he told them, flatly, 'no.' I suspect this was not what they expected to hear from a job candidate. Sharratt said he made the point that neither he nor the agency could succeed in the endeavor alone. Success would require everyone getting involved — legislators, parents, the business community, college presidents, public school superintendents, faculty members, etc.
This is precisely the formula that Sharratt and others used to great effect in North Central Washington. Margie Kerr and the late Betsy Tontini used it to launch Make a Difference Day that has been a national model. It's how the community lit the pedestrian bridge between Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, and so many other projects.
"If you want to go fast," Sharratt said, "you go alone. But if you want to go far, go with others." That requires building relationships, finding common ground and staying true to the objective.
The Student Achievement Council exists to serve the needs of the entire state and there are some important strengths to leverage, such as the fact that once people are in the higher education system they typically finish in a reasonable time.
The bigger challenge is access. In the past several years, the Legislature has let higher education twist in the wind. Tuition and related costs have skyrocketed while state support has dropped dramatically. Perhaps that's changing. This year, for the first time in more than two decades, there was no tuition increase. That's a start, said Sharratt, but we need to continue reinvesting at all levels.
Sharratt sees opportunities for all of the educational institutions to rally around the common message that investments in education pay dividends for individuals, communities and the state.
For those of us who admire Sharratt's ability to get things done by building community, watching the Student Achievement Council evolve will be interesting to watch.
If you'd like to see my interview with Dr. Sharratt, please log onto wenatcheeworld.com and click on videos.