President’s Perspective: School employees’ work matters for all

by C. Patrick Woods
KASB President
Topeka USD 501


Last month, I had the pleasure of heading back to my hometown of Oklahoma City for my 20th high school reunion.

While there I did the usual that everyone does: check up on old friends and acquaintances, learn about each other’s families and careers and hear about the progress of the high school.

I did have one unexpected pleasure while there – our old history teacher and one of our former administrators showed up at the Saturday evening event. This surprise inspired a standing ovation and sustained applause from my classmates and I, and it served as a reminder for all of us just how significant of an impact school district personnel – our teachers, administrators, coaches and custodians – have on our lives and how much we owe them for what they do.

I had another similar experience recently as I attended my district’s annual fall convocation. During this event, faculty, staff and administrators from Topeka Public Schools gather to kick off the school year by discussing district priorities and reaffirming our commitment to meeting the needs of all students.

I was deeply moved as I sat in the audience and listened to one of our students share about the impact one very special teacher had on her life. The student’s words stick with me today, “If it wasn’t for that one teacher, I would have never believed that I was smart; I would have never learned that I belonged too.” What a difference that one district employee can have!

This deep appreciation for school district employees, and the institution of public education in general, is not lost on me as I prepared to take my own children to their first day of school this month.

As the fall semester begins, we should all take a moment to think about what really makes public education special – our employees. Their work matters. It matters for every nose wiped by a teacher and every floor cleaned by a custodian. It matters for every building that’s kept in “tip-top” operating shape, so our kids can have the best, and every “Superman-like” transformation that occurs when our educators must play the role of de facto psychiatrist, consoling a nervous kindergardner (and parents) on the first day of school.

Our employees’ work matters for those reasons just as much as it does for every math problem that’s taught, for each time a student is introduced to a great piece of literature, or for every student who learns to brighten the world by creating their own art.

This work matters for all Kansans. Most of all it matters for the simple fact that but for the institution of free and universal public education – which isn’t possible without the hard work of all of you – our entire society crumbles. Without public education and its workforce, we have:

  • No engineers, inventors or innovators, who specialize in the means of crafting a better life for all of us;
  • No doctors, or anyone who can practice the healing arts that preserve and enhance life for all of us; or
  • No philosophers or artists, who by bringing forward creative expression make life worth living for all of us.

My point is without public schools, and every individual it takes to make the institution work, any hope for continued progress in our society fades away.

As school board members, we play a role in this work too. It’s our responsibility to make the policies that govern our districts and to oversee the responsible management of our resources toward the overall goal of serving all children. But it’s also our responsibility to be loud and proud about the great work that the employees in our districts do every day.

Because public education in Kansas is done so well, and its benefits are so ubiquitous, it can be easy to take for granted. Let’s use this time, when everyone is heading back to school, to show our gratitude to our employees.

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