Unity of purpose
Kentucky School Advocate
By Davonna Page
Hello spring! After more than a year of addressing issue after issue surrounding COVID-19, all while advocating for public schools during another high-stakes legislative session, districts have finally hit the home stretch of the 2020-21 school year. The grass is both literally and figuratively greener as we more confidently return to normal.
Spring is a time of renewal, making it the perfect time for school boards to remind ourselves of our purpose and to renew our sense of unity. While each of Kentucky’s 171 school districts has a different mission statement and strategic plan, we share a common desire to provide our students with quality public education and the promise of brighter futures.
In Kentucky, public schools are educating nearly 648,000 young people in preschool through 12th grade – each with a unique story and set of circumstances. Our Commonwealth’s student demographics reflect considerable diversity in terms of geography, race, ethnicity and socioeconomics as well as countless hurdles that may impede student progress. These demographics vary widely at the district level, meaning each school system’s strategies for achieving equitable outcomes differ from those of their neighbors.
How do 171 districts – each with their unique challenges and priorities – work with fellow education stakeholders to ensure public schools in Kentucky continue to improve and are adequately funded? The answer is unity.
Easy to say, but difficult in practice when there are so many issues to be addressed, issues only compounded by a year-long pandemic and an era of divisive political discourse. The COVID crisis and this year’s regular session of the General Assembly highlighted some longstanding differences among districts and education advocacy groups. It is not uncommon for neighboring districts to have disagreements over funding issues, and advocacy groups simply do not always see eye to eye on legislation. Yet that does not prevent us from standing together in support of a cause for which we all strongly agree.
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, to unite means “to put together to form a single unit; to cause to adhere; to link by a legal or moral bond.” The Commonwealth of Kentucky recognized the importance of unity when we adopted the state motto of “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” The United States’ motto also recognizes the importance of unity – E pluribus unum – “out of many, one.”
Unity does not require us to always agree or to be lock-step 100 percent of the time, but all education stakeholders should be united in taking the necessary steps to strengthen and improve the quality of our common schools. Our “moral bond” is to do right by the generations of students with whom we have been entrusted and to administer an education system worthy of its charge in our constitution.
With Derby season upon us, there is a lesson to be learned from the beautiful thoroughbreds who just recently ran for the roses. Trainers and jockeys work tirelessly to teach racehorses to keep their focus on the track ahead of them while being conscious of the chaos around them. They will even use blinders to prevent the horses from being too distracted from what is on either side of them or what may be behind them.
To achieve unity, we as board members must train ourselves to avoid being overly distracted by the divisiveness around us. When we lose sight of our common goal, instead choosing to dwell on what divides us, we lose ground in the race. All of us should remain steadfastly focused on the mission of providing a quality public education for students across Kentucky. This shared focus will once again bring a sense of unity to all public school advocates and enable us to stand united as true champions of education.