News literacy: The one subject this superintendent believes should be taught in every district

"I am of the firm belief that if there is one skill our kids need to graduate with, it's that," says Shari Camhi, superintendent of the Baldwin Union Free School District and who now serves on the board of the National Assessment Governing Board.

A couple of months ago, Shari Camhi, superintendent of the Baldwin Union Free School District in New York, was appointed to the board of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the Nation’s Report Card. She was also elected the 2022-23 president of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, served as a member of the executive committee and governing board of AASA, and the list goes on.

District Administration had the pleasure of sitting down with Camhi to learn more about her leadership philosophy, the innovative initiatives she’s spearheading and, of course, to celebrate this exciting appointment.

Although she’ll be responsible for one of the most comprehensive evaluations of student assessments in the country, Camhi’s definition of student achievement isn’t solely centered around academics. However, she respects the history and the work of the governing board.

“When we look at student achievement, we try and fit this huge, vast, diverse variety of thinkers into this tiny little opening,” she says.

She speaks of her own experience as a student and says she’s willing to bet that if you put a standardized test in front of her, she could convince you that there’s more than one correct answer.

“By definition, there might be one correct answer, but you’re not looking at my critical thinking,” she argues. Sure, if you ask, “What’s 2 + 2,” there’s obviously one correct answer. But by Camhi’s definition of student achievement, there’s tremendous value in the diversity of thinking and one’s approach to a solution.

Dr. Shari Camhi with her students.

Yet, she agrees that superintendents shouldn’t ignore the data and the insight offered by national assessments like the Nation’s Report Card. On a greater level, the metrics assist in the curation of statewide policies.

“I think that’s a good thing,” she says. “If we’re actually determining policy based on data, I don’t think we should be using one point of data. But if we look at that data and determine that our curriculum needs to shift or our standards need to shift, then those decisions based on information is better than making the decisions without information.”

Setting priorities in Baldwin Union

As for her work in the Baldwin Union Free School District, she operates with a future-focused mentality with the goal of ensuring each student is prepared for life beyond high school.

For instance, her kindergarteners aren’t going to become workers in 2023, 2024 or 2025 unlike some of her high school students. As a result, she says superintendents have to be “futurists” because the future of the youngest students is just as important.

“The approach that we take is not only looking into the future, but it’s identifying those skills and dispositions,” she says.

She also believes strongly in the impact of news literacy, a topic that’s grown in popularity among education leaders in recent years and because much of her initiatives are tied to a civic component.

Dr. Shari Camhi

In grades six through 12, Baldwin Union’s educators have embedded news and media literacy in their ELA and social studies classes. Her high schoolers also have the opportunity to take a college-level course through Stony Brook University on the subject.

“I am of the firm belief that if there is one skill our kids need to graduate with, it’s that,” she declares. “I can’t stress the importance of that. I think every single school district in the country needs to be doing something similar.”

As for the rest of the school year, she sets her sights on two major initiatives (among many). The first is what they call “Baldwin 2035,” which challenges everyone to work to create a school system that is prepared for what K12 education is like in the next decade.

“It engages parents, community teachers, administrators and students in this idea that asks the question, ‘If we’re creating a school system for the year 2035, what should it look like when we get there?’ And then how do we break that down into the things that we do now to make that implementation successful?”

Secondly, the district is in the process of opening two wellness centers, one that’s focused on emotional and academic wellness while the other prioritizes physical and emotional wellness.

“It’s all about basically fostering a huge ‘hug’ around our kids and our community to make sure that it is an emotionally safe, physically safe, academically safe, warm and caring place where everybody has a home,” she says. “Those, I would say, are among the many things happening here in Baldwin Union, are our two points of focus for this year.”

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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