Nothing predictable during a pandemic
Kentucky School Advocate
By Kerri Schelling
KSBA Executive Director
Most of us, by design or accident, develop routines for much of what we do, what we choose and where we go each day. These patterns and preferences become so familiar that they make us easy to predict at home, at work – and even at school board meetings. This may seem like a recipe for boredom and while it can be, the truth is that predictability gives us a measure of control in our lives. We don’t have to spend much time making routine decisions because we know our preferred outcomes. Knowing what we expect from others and our environment gives us a sense of reliability and safety. The flip side is that we also develop an expectation that both what and who we need are available to us at a moment’s notice and we often take things for granted.
Just a few weeks ago, all our routines changed. Seemingly overnight, our world was upended by the growing threat of COVID-19 and nothing was predictable. In the public education arena, more than 600,000 K-12 students in Kentucky suddenly didn’t have a place to go on weekdays and many didn’t have a stable source of food; many parents were left without the prospect of a next paycheck or options for childcare. Daily staples, such as milk and toiletries have been in short supply. Even our ability to safely go out in public has been severely limited. Our communities have been forced to adapt to life without clearly defined next steps and without any indication of how long the uncertainty will last. Our patterns no longer work, causing fear and anxiety that is foreign to many of us. But not to all of us.
In a time where most everyone is feeling some new level of vulnerability, it’s especially important to remember those who know that feeling all too well. Nearly half of students in Kentucky live in low-income households, with a fifth of them living below the poverty line. The uncertainty of a next meal or paycheck or healthcare has been a reality for these families since long before the coronavirus, as has the strain on their mental, physical, emotional and educational well-being. Imagine these same lives now, their challenges compounded by the impact of the pandemic.
I believe that on the other side of this crisis, we will appreciate the teachable moments that were laced throughout the chaos and inconvenience. We will be stronger as districts – not weaker – following a period that truly tested our resilience. We will regain an appreciation for having our most basic needs met. We will grow in our empathy and our understanding.
Leadership, in its purest form, emerges in the face of uncertainty. And the families in your districts will be searching for such leadership. As a board team, you must decide what that looks like. Whether that’s helping to pass out meals during school closures or taking swift board action to allow for the expansion of NTI programming, I challenge you to position yourselves in a way that will stem the collective fears of your constituents and staff, and reestablish a sense of normalcy. Reassure them with steadfast decision making and communications. Simply showing quiet strength and unity in the board room can go a long way in affirming that this too shall pass. As a board team, ask yourself “How do we want to be remembered when this is over?” and let that be your guide.
At a time when physical separation is a necessity, our unity of spirit is more evident than ever. On behalf of KSBA, thank you for your service and your leadership.