An Interview with Dan Smith: With the Upcoming Election…..

Jun 8, 2012 by

Dan Smith, the former Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and founder and former president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) How do you think you will be able to help The Sheridan Group?

I’ve learned that in order to succeed at creating transformative social change, transformative organizational change is critical. With my experience both inside and outside of government, I know what is required for nonprofits to achieve results, and I’m capable of helping The Sheridan Group and their partners create the transformative organizational change necessary for breakthrough advocacy results.

2) With the election a few months away- what SHOULD The Sheridan Group’s clients be doing, and are they doing it?

TSG’s clients should be making sure that the constituents who care about their programs are actively engaged with elected officials and set up for success no matter what the political landscape looks like following the election.

3) All I hear about are economic problems—how much “change” can be accomplished without balancing the budget?

All of the social change that TSG is currently promoting is central to helping get the economy back on track. Our partners are working in communities across the county – empowering individuals with greater financial security, a meaningful job, or a good education.  These organizations are making significant change – they are generating a tremendous return on investment in both human and financial terms and collecting the data necessary to demonstrate results. Our job is to magnify their successes on the national stage and help lawmakers make lasting social change with the right policies.

4) What have you heard are The Sheridan Group’s clients’ top priorities?

TSG and its partners are focused on addressing problems with policies that are effective, innovative, and driven by data and results. Our clients put a tremendous emphasis on data and evidence: they know their models work and are continuously improving their programs.  They are doing very exciting work in education particularly – from raising literacy achievement in Colorado to turning around failing schools in Louisiana.  These organizations achieve the best results when federal agencies collaborate and innovate.  We work hard to educate lawmakers on our clients’ successes in the field and help them enact informed policies that break-down silos between agencies, facilitate between public/private/and nonprofit partnerships, and use data to track progress.

5) And what are YOUR priorities?

It is my goal to position our clients as national voices in education reform.  Policymakers need to hear from the organizations on the ground, working in schools and community centers. Their voices are critical to passing the right policies that can truly move the needle on education reform in this country.

Having worked as a congressional staffer on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), I want to help the education community come together to build the political support necessary to put laws in place that give every child the chance to succeed.

6) What have I neglected to ask?

I learned two important lessons during my years in the Senate and as president of The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network: choose your battles wisely and be persistent. Advocates are understandably pessimistic about the current Congress and the political outlook moving forward.  I want to make clear to our clients – and anyone who cares about education reform – that this is a battle worth fighting. We are poised at a make-it or break-it moment: if education reform advocates don’t step on the gas now, ESEA reauthorization won’t see the light of day, and the tremendous progress we have made in education at the local level will never be brought to scale in schools across the country.

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