Coming to the Table for Equitable Public Education
A National Conversation
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela’s profound words are not only impactful, but they also get to the heart of Toba Cohen-Dunning’s passion in life – education.
Toba has led the Omaha Public Schools Foundation (OPSF) as its Executive Director for over a decade, but her dedication to ensuring that all children have access to equitable public education has been part of her life’s work, and it goes beyond the city of Omaha.
As the first National Schools Foundation Association (NSFA) board president from Nebraska, Toba understands that, to create equity in public education, it is imperative for people from all corners of the country to work together, talk to each other and collaborate for the sake of our children.
“Education, specifically public education, is not just a district issue, city issue or state issue; it’s a national issue,” Toba said. “It impacts every child in every socioeconomic, race, religion, gender identity, age, sexual identity, ethnicity, immigrant, citizen, refugee and language population across our country.”
At the state level, Toba represents OPSF as a member of the Nebraska Association of Public Schools Foundation (NAPSF). This membership allows Toba to collaborate with her colleagues from around the state and to advocate for districts, funders, teachers, administrators and, most importantly, the students. Each member of NAPSF is focused on ensuring the success of public private partnerships that help fund public school districts by broadening learning experiences and educational opportunities.
“Sometimes, as involved citizens, we have to engage with people whose views and beliefs aren’t the same as ours in order to be the voice for these children, to bring about understanding, to create change that levels the playing field for the next generation,” Toba said. We don’t get all the work done in one sitting or one conversation, but it can be a great first step. How can you create change without coming to the table, without starting a conversation?”
So why, you ask, is all the statewide and national work that public school foundations, like OPSF, do so important? Why does it matter?
Toba says, “It’s for the kids. The work that the NAPSF and the NSFA are doing brings us together to share and create best practices so that we come back to our respective districts prepared to be stewards of our superintendents’ goals. We also take part in training and development opportunities to ensure that we adhere to high ethical standards, which are extremely important with the fiscal responsibilities we have. When we are all working together, supporting each other with a common goal in sight, the kids are more prepared to achieve success.”
At the NSFA national conference in Philadelphia last week, Toba and The National Principles and Proven Practices Task Force presented the first document on guiding principles for K-12 education foundations, the result of a three-year-long project through the collaboration of industry leaders around the U.S. All foundations operate upon a continuum in the “pursuit of public excellence.” These principles and practices are intended to serve as a guide to help foundation boards, executive directors, foundation staff, school boards and superintendents inform decisions at every stage of their journey that will enable them to grow.
“Ultimately, I know that I am part of a village that is preparing the youngest of learners to high school seniors for their journeys and successes in life,” Toba said. “Public education is a huge factor in their lives. If we, as adults, legislators, contributors, decision-makers, parents and neighbors, choose to invest in quality public education so that every child has access to equitable public schools, we are investing in them–the kids, the next generation of professionals, skilled workers and leaders.”