Reopening: A School Board Member’s Perspective

“I despise you.” Those were the words a parent in my community chose to write in an email to myself and six other School Board members. I had never met this person, didn’t know anything about his family, and he knew nothing of mine, yet he “despised” me, simply because I was forced to vote on an impossible choice…send children and staff back into school buildings with limited resources to keep them safe from a virus that kills, or keep them home in a virtual learning environment knowing that not all families had equitable access and opportunities. Like I said, impossible.

Political aspirations were never a part of my life plan. I’ve worked in education and Human Resources as an L&D professional, and my passion is developing others; meeting them where they are and helping them grow into the best version of themselves through support and resources. Then, 2016 happened. After Donald Trump was elected, and Betsy DeVos was subsequently appointed as Secretary of Education, I knew the war on public education was about to intensify, and as an educator and parent, I felt compelled to do more in my community; I ran for a local School Board seat in 2018, and won.

Education is the great equalizer; I started my career in the School District of Philadelphia, and I have personally witnessed how access and opportunities through our public system can change a life’s trajectory. I still clearly remember the gut punch I felt when one of my students said, “Miss, on my block, you get more respect coming home from prison than you do coming home from college.” That was the day my white, upper-middle class suburban bubble got popped, and I was faced with a new reality; I challenged myself to listen, learn, and explore the battles my kids encountered, the things that brought them joy, the pride and love they held for their community, and the sense of hopelessness many of them faced, and I tried to understand why. Although the cards were stacked against these students in numerous aspects, many of the kids that lived on that “block” the student had referenced, DID go on to college and/or found quality jobs, and they continue to thrive. Why? The public education system! It was the administration, teachers, and support staff that poured themselves into each child’s mind and heart; the safe space to be creative, intelligent, and confident. Public schools have gotten a bad rap for years, but I can say with vigor, it’s not the people IN a school that’s the problem; it is the system that doesn’t support them.

However, I digress; that is another essay for another day. Today’s focus…the reopening experience.

When I was being sworn into office in December of 2018, it never entered my mind that I would be responsible for making decisions about a life threatening virus that could potentially impact the health and safety of 26,000 students and 4,000 employees. Setting and enforcing policy, overseeing the budget, managing the superintendent? Sure! Making a final call about reopening schools during a pandemic that to date has killed over 765,000 people worldwide? Not a chance.

As a nation, we continue to be faced with fear, frustration, disappointment, anxiety, and loss. Many of us like control, prefer routines, and we don’t like other people telling us what we can and can’t do. Covid-19 has stripped us of that, and regardless of your opinion on how the situation has been handled, this virus has impacted every single one of us, and is changing life as we know it.

So that brings us back to the reopening of school. I’ll be honest, it sucks, ALL of it. Working parents are struggling to find and pay for daycare, while worrying about their child’s safety and learning opportunities. Families with someone available at home are struggling to balance virtual schedules for multiple children and feel apprehension about their ability to “teach”. Don’t get me started on the lack of access to technology and internet! There are major concerns regarding unreported child abuse; and what about access to healthy meals for students that rely on their schools to provide? How will limited English Language Learners, or special needs students be supported?Teachers, who have been trained to work face to face with students, are being forced into a virtual environment that in many ways, strips them of the thing that they do best…connecting with students; meanwhile, they feel attacked by angry communities for varied reasons. District leadership continues to follow data, and take cues from the local health department and state leadership to determine the best path forward; unfortunately, information is often delayed, which causes a slowdown in decision making for the entire system, which leads to frustrated families and employers.

My email inbox has been flooded with messages pertaining to all of these situations, and others, over the past three months; as a School Board Member, a working parent, and a human being, I’m at a loss for how to respond because there is no good answer, and no magical band aid that can fix what we are experiencing. But I do know this, if we continue to spread anger in our communities, threaten each other with harm, place blame, and continue sending hateful comments via email or social media, we only fuel the frenzy. This is not a time for complaints… it is a time for coming together to problem solve. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in it too; some days I feel joy, other days I can’t get out of bed because the world feels too hard, and other days I’m just pissed off and want to hit something…we’re all in this together, and we need each other because, despite our differences, we are going through a shared experience of Covid-19.

For many, our schools are the center of our community; they need us right now. Your system’s teachers, administration, and School Board did not cause the global pandemic, but it is the hand that we’ve been dealt, and we want the same thing you do… a safe place where your child can learn, grow, and thrive. I know things look different this year, and reopening is challenging on so many levels, but the educators are here, and committed. Whether your District is virtual, socially distanced face-to-face, or fully in person with no restrictions, educators are dedicated to our children and their academic, emotional, and personal success.

Be kind. Be patient. Offer to help, rather than harm. Be there for our schools, the way they are always there for our children, and continue to be even in this time of pandemic chaos. To the educators, I salute you, and I applaud your spirit and passion as we wade through uncharted waters together.

To the man that “despises” me, and the countless other people that have reached out to share disdain and disappointment, I’m sorry to have made you so angry; I proudly stand by my decisions, and I support the knowledgeable and dedicated educators that helped to inform them. For every School Board vote, there are hours of data sharing, research, a multitude of conversations with experts, and extensive thought. As a leader, I know it falls on me to ultimately make the final call, and sometimes, that decision is unpopular, and I expect that. But what has made the reopening discussion so challenging, is that there is no clear BEST choice in this situation; we can only identify options that are safe, plausible, and executable given the circumstances.

“Back to School” looks different, but the resiliency of our spirit will move us through if we work together. To students, families, and educators, I wish you the best, and as we approach Election Day 2020, think very carefully about the future leaders you choose to support. Do your research, get to know your candidates at the national, state, and local levels; their decisions will impact our path forward through this pandemic. VOTE, and have your voice heard!

#backtoschool #reopening #SchoolBoard #school #Covid19 #coronavirus #leadership #electedoffice #bekind #bepatient #thankyoueducators #VOTE

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Educator, learning and development professional, elected official, wife, and mother. Days are fueled by coffee, chocolate, & yoga. www.wnypeopledevelopment.com

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Stefanie Adams

Stefanie Adams

Educator, learning and development professional, elected official, wife, and mother. Days are fueled by coffee, chocolate, & yoga. www.wnypeopledevelopment.com

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