Deborah Delisle started out as an elementary school teacher and later moved on to serve as superintendent of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district in Northeastern Ohio. From there she went on to lead Ohio’s Department of Education. Delisle served as Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2008 to 2011.
Now she’s heading to Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama has nominated her for a top post in the U.S. Department of Education. If confirmed as the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, her portfolio will cover just about every federal policy that touches K-12 education in the United States. On Wednesday, we talked with her about her new portfolio and her experiences in Ohio.
A: The lens that I bring to the role is the fact that I am extremely interested and always have been in equity and education for all students. I’ve spent a considerable amount of my career in urban settings and I really have a firm belief that a zip code should never predetermine the quality of a child’s education.
So whatever initiatives or work that I’m heavily engaged in at the department, I’m going to have that lens of how do you support students, all students, to achieve at high levels, and how do you engage schools in improvement processes that meet the needs of all of their students.
Q: Were there things that happened or policies that were enacted when you were at the school district level that you thought ‘Gee, what are the Feds thinking?’
A: I think probably everybody feels that way about other organizations. I mean, I certainly felt that way about Ohio when I was a district superintendent. And then I didn’t forget that when I went to Columbus and I always would think about [how policies] get translated at the school district level. I’m hoping that I had a positive impact on some of the processes that came out of the state Department of Education.
Q: Are there things you think that Ohio is doing right that the rest of the nation can learn from?
A: There has been a long history of the development of standards that are meant to really enhance rigor in the classroom. I think Ohio’s adoption of the Common Core standards in English language arts and mathematics will really ratchet up the education that’s offered to all of the students in Ohio.
Ohio has long been really innovative in terms of thinking through different ways to educate children. And what I found when I became the state superintendent of Ohio was what a great national reputation that Ohio has as far as being very creative and thinking very strategically about improvement plans for school districts and how best to meet the needs of all children.
Q: Can you tell me about your working relationship with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan?
A: I know Arne Duncan from my prior experiences as state superintendent of Ohio. I have not worked directly with him. I really have appreciated this administration’s focus on students. So often as the state superintendent I would hear information coming out of the U.S. Department of Education that talked about kids. And that’s obviously central to all the work that we do.
Q: When I was reading a lot of the stories about your resignation, they often mention that you “resigned in tears.” Looking back on that experience, do you have any regrets?
A: No. I loved my time in Ohio. I spent 28 years in the state of Ohio. And I loved the people with whom I interacted. I loved every single position that I held in the state of Ohio. I look with great fondness on all of my time spent in Ohio.
Q: Are there any particular shout-outs you want to make?
A: I give a shout-out to every single person who walks into every classroom every day and faces a myriad of complexities that perhaps no one understands until they walk in their shoes. I give a great shout-out to the educators who care deeply about our kids.
I saw incredible things going on in classrooms across Ohio. I just really applaud the work that people do every single day on behalf of students.