Award-worthy impact of school boards
Kentucky School Advocate
By Kerri Schelling
KSBA Executive Director
KSBA is still buzzing from our 2021 Annual Conference last month – our first in-person event in nearly 15 long months. Admittedly, it felt a little strange that everything was so… normal. The long absence, a new conference location and a freshly lifted mask requirement made the reunion of our members that much more special.
We took every opportunity at conference to celebrate all that school boards and their districts have overcome since March 2020. While KSBA placed some of our traditional conference awards on hold due to the pandemic, we proudly presented a special 2021 School Board Member of the Year award to each of Kentucky’s 857 local school board members.
You fought to keep your districts moving forward despite unprecedented circumstances. You fought as our public schools have been under assault not just from COVID-19, but from those bent on stripping our districts of more funding and more decision-making authority. You fought for every dollar, every opportunity and every student. To paraphrase Star Trek, you went where no school boards have gone before! And for that, you are all award-worthy champions of education.
To say, “it’s good to be back” is inaccurate. The fact is that school boards, administrators, educators and district staff never left. Instead, they were challenged like never before. The impact of education leaders like you during these tumultuous times should not be undervalued. We must allow all that we have overcome – and the lessons learned along the way – to inform our decisions moving forward.
Likewise, a pandemic cannot keep your association from doing what we do best. KSBA pressed forward over the last year despite closing our physical office space, with most staff members working hard from home to ensure you had the resources, services and support to effectively lead your districts.
In 2020 alone KSBA offered our members 51.5 hours’ worth of board training opportunities in the form of 23 training events – nearly all of which were offered in virtual formats. Despite COVID-19, school board members earned 10,734 training hours with 88 percent exceeding the minimum hours required by law.
Throughout the pandemic, we never missed an issue of the Kentucky School Advocate magazine, our KSBA Aware e-newsletter or a weekly legislative update during the legislative sessions. And education stakeholders relied on our coverage more than ever, viewing our social media content more than four million times.
Over the last 14 months KSBA fielded countless questions from districts in the form of calls and emails on legal and policy implications of our schools’ historic responses to COVID-19. Our policy staff completed not one, but two policy and procedural updates in 2020, and they just released the 2021 updates (all 6,966 of them).
KSBA’s unemployment claims service has worked around the clock processing an unprecedented number of claims; roughly 13,000 during the pandemic (compared to approximately 1,000 during an average cycle) with more than 5,000 of those identified as fraudulent.
KSBA facilitated more than 20 superintendent searches. We tracked 316 bills introduced during the 2021 regular session of the General Assembly which would have had some impact on district operations and we were actively involved in several key pieces of legislation that benefited our public schools. In doing so, we strengthened our reputation among lawmakers as a leading advocate for public education.
I would need this entire issue to just scratch the surface of what your association has accomplished in recent months. As we now turn our attention to the recovery and advancement of our public schools, and as we begin to think of COVID-19 more as history than as current events, KSBA will continue to stand with you.
For the extraordinary effort and resolve that was required of school board teams this year. For decisive action during an unparalleled crisis. For unforeseen demands of time. For carefully weighing what is in the best interest of your communities when answers did not come easy, we are forever grateful to you, our members. Your example as true champions for education inspires us every day.