Are we there yet?
Kentucky School Advocate
By Kerri Schelling
KSBA Executive Director
I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel. And as I prepare to say good riddance to a socially isolated year I will not miss, I find myself longing to round up some friends and hit the open road. I love road trips; the comradery, the freedom from obligations and the sense of adventure can make the journey more exciting than the destination. But sometimes there are bumps in the road: maybe the air conditioning stops working, there’s no consensus on music or perhaps someone (we won’t name names) takes a wrong turn at Albuquerque. What started as a unifying experience becomes a hard slog and the longer we are trapped in the car, the more our excitement fades, giving way to anxiety, impatience, irritability and even physical discomfort. When we become focused on the misery of the moment, we can lose focus on the destination altogether. “Are we there yet?”
We may not have physically traveled recently but we’ve been on a journey with plenty of bumps nonetheless. COVID’s profound impact on our schools and communities, coupled with the prolonged limitations of social distancing, have sharpened divisions among education stakeholders. All too often our words have become pointed and curt. We are more skeptical of others. Our patience has worn thin. At times, we have felt hopeless or angry – or both. The past year has seemed like a road trip that never ends – prompting us to ask yet again, “Are we there yet?”
Part of this, I suspect, stems from relationship strain. Being limited in our in-person interactions has surely affected how we are getting along with others. Maybe we’re just out of practice or maybe our frustrations are getting the better of us. No matter the reasons, it’s a lot easier to be critical, disrespectful – and even mean – when one is behind a computer screen than when interacting with others in the flesh.
Humans have an innate need for affiliation, and while returning to in-person encounters may take some getting used to, our instincts will help us reacclimate to the face-to-face environment. The familiar urge to shake hands, hug someone or high five will reconnect us in ways videoconferencing cannot. The same instincts that will hopefully encourage us to be kinder, to be better listeners and to extend the same grace we would ask from others.
As a body, KSBA represents one of the most diverse memberships of all Kentucky elected offices; demographics, politics, economics and communities served. Nevertheless, as the executive director of the association representing those school boards, I see firsthand every day the remarkable abilities of individuals to work closely with others – even those with whom they may rarely agree – doing so with a shared sense of purpose and a smile. School board service is representative democracy in its purest form. A commitment to serve the needs of the whole child will always unite and sustain us, but it is times like these that we must remind ourselves what is at stake if we cannot find a way to work together with all those who have a part to play in the education of our communities’ children.
Our members’ passion for, and belief in, the power of local decision making has been on full display throughout the pandemic and I applaud our school board teams across the Commonwealth for continuing to be champions for students, families and staff while navigating unfamiliar terrain. That passion will be just as critical now as we shift our focus back to a more familiar journey: moving public education forward, together.