KASB President’s Perspective: Addressing a different kind of emergencyAustin Harris
I have so many thoughts about “what now,” but for the moment I want to acknowledge the loss and sadness that many of us feel about the decision to close school facilities in Kansas.
As the mother of three children, I am concerned about their health and future. As a local board member, I am part of our district leadership team working our way through these challenging times. And as president of KASB, I understand the need to provide leadership and vision while taking care of local and personal concerns.
First, our top concern is the health of our students, their families, our staff and communities. No one knows exactly the right actions to take in the first moments of a health emergency, but most of us would agree it is more dangerous to do too little than too much.
Whether or not individuals agree with the actions by state officials, it is now up to local school leaders to deal with this new reality. This is something school board members, especially those who just took office a few months ago, never envisioned. Expected or not, these board members are the people each of our 286 school communities have chosen to make decisions for our schools and the students they serve. Our school community reaches beyond just the K‐12 system, of course. From early education to post‐secondary education, along with special education service providers and education service centers, all are working to find the best solutions for our children. Our communities are looking to you. KASB will be here to help.
New challenges for schools
The decision to close schools for the rest of this school year does not end the relationship between schools, their students and families. It does not – and should not – mean learning will end until next August. The concerns you are hearing from students, parents, teachers and staff and others shows just how important our public schools are to the fabric of communities. With assistance from state leaders and educational organizations, our schools will have to figure out how to maintain their vital functions, as best we can, in ways never expected.
We must continue to focus on the individual needs of our students. What happens in the next few months will not be the same, or as good, as what we have been doing. Choices will have to be made. One of the realities of public education is that we serve children with very different levels of need and support. Some are far more at risk of educational loss and even meeting basic human needs. Schools must craft plans to reflect those different needs.
Likewise, our oldest students are deeply concerned about how this will affect their transition from school to adult life. We also must do our best to assist them through that transition.
As we move past the immediate shock and fear, we can see this as an opportunity to learn about how schools can and must change to do better for students. We can learn what works and what doesn’t work when K‐12 education is not defined by a single time and place.
Kansas may be better positioned to handle this emergency better than most states. Education leaders here have been involved in a process to redesign or reimagine how schools operate. The key principles of that process include meeting both the academic and social/emotional needs of students; building deeper relationships with parents and communities; giving students more choices over how, when and where they learn; and helping students find more real‐world relevance in their educational experience.
Each of these principles can and will be tested in our response to this current crisis. No one would have asked for this situation to force schools to look at change, but we know now schools must change, at least in the short term.
Leadership is rising to a challenge, learning from the experience, and using it to create a better future. Whether it is responding to a flood, tornado or any other emergency, Kansans have always worked together for the common good. Boards of Education have always honored the tremendous responsibility they bear for public schools in their care. We are being called on again to address a different kind of emergency than we have faced in our lifetimes. But as we have done in the past, working together we will make sure the success of each and every student remains our top goal.