“I’m completely overwhelmed!”; “I’m so stressed out!”; “I’m burned out!”, and “I just can’t sleep at night.” These are just some of the emotions that have been expressed in many of my conversations with my colleagues regarding the many difficult challenges COVID-19 has ushered into the educational community. Phrases like “this is the new normal” has become a seemingly unending paradox for educators throughout every state and on all levels of our educational systems. Once a place of stability and safety for many of our children, our schools have now become a place of fear, where the health and welfare not only of or students, but teachers and staff are in jeopardy. The proverbial school doors have been shut on our neediest students and the achievement gaps have widened to become great chasms.
I want to take this opportunity to provide encouragement to my colleagues in education on all levels. I know very well what it feels like to be tossed into a quagmire of endless problems layered with doubt and fear. As a new superintendent, of an urban school district faced with financial challenges; low student academic performance; high teacher turnover; and a $22 million deficit, morale was low, apathy was rampant, and complacency was well set into place. However, I appeal to you, as I did then to my entire community for support by asking them all: students, staff, parents, business and community members to join me by standing firm in our faith, focusing on hope, and sharing our love. Following is an excerpt from my article published immediately after my first swearing-in as Superintendent of the Harrisburg (PA) School District. I have taken the liberty to adjust a few of the words and phrases to better reflect the current circumstances of this time period. I offer these words as a tool for my colleagues to be encouraged, persevere, and maintain your focus, dedication and commitment to: “The Pursuit of Educational Equity & Excellence.”
In the movie, “The Pursuit of Happiness”, the character played by acclaimed actor Will Smith faced many challenges as he navigated obstacles in pursuit of a life of meaning, success and productivity. Some of his struggles included finding and keeping a job to support his family, as conflicts with this wife heightened and resulted in his family being torn apart. Homeless, he provides the audience a front row seat as he and his son move from living in subway restrooms to shelters; confronting disappointment after disappointment throughout the movie. However, in spite of the obstacles and challenges he faces, his character portrayed and maintained three important virtues: faith, hope and love. We experience faith in his commitment and dedication to accomplishing his goal to achieve success. Hope is demonstrated in his persistent work ethic as he goes door to door to sell his medical equipment (machines) never giving up, even in the face of rejection after rejection. We see love as he stares into his young son’s eyes and holds him tightly as he falls asleep locked in a restroom of a subway station. His love says, “I will protect you from the harshness of this world.”
We must have Faith – that God will bless our plans and give us the abilities, strength and courage to accomplish our goals to educate our children together;
We must have Hope – to see opportunities and possibilities in the challenges that we face together as we strive to educate our children;
We must have Love – for each and every child and family as together, we advocate for and attain quality and equitable education for our children.
As I reflect on these last few months, this pandemic has wreaked havoc on our world. We are living in a difficult time. However, I am reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Through the many transitions, turmoil and chaos that this change brings; through the massive financial deficit and significant downsizing in staff and teachers that districts are facing – we still must stand together and continue the Pursuit of Educational Equity and Excellence for all students.
We must stand because we have more than enough faith demonstrated through our commitment. We have more than enough hope demonstrated by our dedication. We have more than enough love for our children. Love that will propel us to come together to discover our resources to provide quality educational experiences that will continue to prepare our children to be productive citizens in our everchanging global society.
Therefore, we must believe and take CHARGE!
C stands for Connections – ensuring that everything we do connects to improving student achievement and promoting social-emotional wellness. We will maintain a laser-like focus to ensure that all of our efforts, from the office of the superintendent to the virtual classroom, are aligned and focused on student achievement.
H stands for Healthy Habits – doing the right things for the organization that are student-centered, not adult motivated, and research-based. Negative talk about our condition and our situation must change to positive affirmations and behaviors by adults and students.
A stands for Accountability – providing time to create clear directions about our roles and expectations in regards to what we are doing, where we are going and how we plan to get there.
R stands for Responsibility – making sure the work gets done. Monitoring our work and progress through aligned systems, assessments and continuous evaluations.
G stands for Growth – collecting and using our data (both formal and informal) to chart and report our progress and to make adjustments to programs and instructional practices based on student data
E stands for Effective & Equitable Instruction – the single most important variable in improving student achievement is providing high-quality instruction for every student. To increase student learning and equitable access, teacher effectiveness must be developed continuously.
As we take CHARGE, we will help to maintain clarity and unity of purpose.
Each School Leadership team must answer the following questions:
How can I use the principles of CHARGE to impact educational excellence?
How does my job use CHARGE to promote educational excellence?
How will I demonstrate and practice CHARGE, daily as I pursue educational equity & excellence?
We know very well the African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Our Parents and Community members comprise our ‘village’ and must join in taking CHARGE and being actively engaged in the Pursuit to Educational Equity & Excellence. Our members of our community must answer: what can I to do to help our children? How can I partner with our school district in the pursuit of educational equity & excellence in the midst of a pandemic?
The opportunities and possibilities for success are limitless. No contribution is too small or suggestion insignificant. We can overcome obstacles, embrace challenges, and commit to goals that will bring us closer together. We are not alone. We have a village. We have the CHARGE! Remember the three virtues as stated in
1Corinthians: 13 Chapter: “And now abide faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” Stay encouraged in the pursuit!