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Executive Insights

Kerri Schelling

Marathon, not a sprint

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2020

By Kerri Schelling
KSBA Executive Director

When I was in college, two of my good friends were on the track team; one was a sprinter and the other ran long distances. The goal of one was to reach his maximum speed as fast as he could and maintain it for 100 or 200 meters. His races were over quickly. The other focused on pacing, strategy and endurance over 10,000 meters. His races seemed to go on and on and on. Recent events have reminded me about the stark contrast between those two activities and how different the approach was for each of them. Back in March most of us thought we were preparing for one kind of race, when we were in fact getting ready to run the other.  

Three months ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic turned our worlds upside down, we did not know enough about what we were facing to fathom the cataclysmic shift that would be required of us in the months ahead. Early on, every move was reactionary. The means to a next step. A checkpoint. As federal and state agencies scrambled to respond, school districts were left to operate a couple days or weeks at a time, in a continuous sprint, until the next short-term decision was made. Non-traditional instruction. School feeding programs. Social-emotional support. Personnel issues. Budgets. Amending policies and procedures. Graduation requirements. All in flux without the luxury of stopping to catch one’s breath.

The summer months will offer some reprieve as districts regroup and prepare for the 2020-21 school year. Following much needed rest and recovery, districts will be challenged to redefine the race they are running when they return to school.

The human body’s muscle fibers are generally categorized in one of two ways; fast twitch and slow twitch. Fast twitch muscles are responsible for power and speed, like the burst needed by Olympic athletes competing in the 4x100-meter relay. Slow twitch muscles, however, are built for endurance, needed for feats such as the Boston Marathon or Tour de France. 

Public schools flexed their fast twitch muscles, their power, when asked to do the impossible this past spring, sprinting their way through the last days of school, using every spare ounce of energy at their disposal to salvage what was left of a school year that had all but collapsed. But that type of intense burst cannot be sustained without eventually exhausting – or even injuring – the runner. The 2019-20 school year did not end the way we had hoped. It was abrupt, painful and lacked the closure that both students and their teachers deserved. It is understandable that many feel defeated, or even cheated out of the year to which they were entitled.

But ready or not, the race isn’t over yet.

Kentucky’s public schools and the communities they serve will now be asked to endure, to commit to the marathon ahead of them, without all the answers or a clear finish line in sight. Board members, in their capacity, must find ways to support and to help sustain the mission of the district through effective governance and steadfast leadership at the local level. The next legs of the race will be uphill, fraught with obstacles and setbacks, but this is not an individual event. Board teams, not unlike track teams, get their power from individuals working together for a common goal. So, while the next months may feel at times like you are in a marathon, a relay race or even jumping hurdles, remember you are never running alone.

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