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Superintendent's News

Posted: July 31, 2020

Hoping to be Less Wrong

As we prepare to kick-off this most unusual school year, Supt. Elder shares part of a speech he gave at the APS Administrators Conference on Education.

Ahhh, the start of a new school year. I always looked forward to this time of year.

As a teacher, I enjoyed getting back in my classroom, dusting off books, hanging posters, prepping lessons, going over rosters, and preparing to educate a whole new group of students.

As a principal, I would wander from class to class, greeting and high fiving friends and colleagues as they dusted off books, prepped their lessons, and prepared to teach a new group of kids.

That's one of the great things about public education. Each school year is a new beginning, a chance to do things differently – better – than in the past. You could feel the energy generated by all that possibility. It was exciting. It was fun. 

We're definitely doing things differently this year, but the energy is much more nervous, excitement has been replaced with anxiety. And not much of what we've had to do of late can be classified as fun. 

In my new job as the interim superintendent, I'm supposed to rally the troops, motivate the team. I will try my best to do that today, and each day as we move forward through this unconventional school year. But I also promise to be honest with you. To be straightforward. I read an article recently titled, "There Are No Right Decisions About This School Year." I am just hoping to be less wrong.

First and foremost, we have to figure out how to educate our students – all of our students. And we have to make everyone feel safe – not just students and their families, but our teachers, our staff, and, yes, even ourselves. We can't be effective if we don't believe what we're selling – a plan to safely educate students amid a contagious pandemic, despite the complications, frustrations, and stumbling blocks.

A little advice as we prepare for the coming days and weeks and months: Stay out of the prediction business. We honestly don't know what's going to happen with the coronavirus, and gloom and doom forecasts aren't productive. That's not to say we shouldn't be realistic and practical. We need to work on implementing our plan, knowing very well it may change. We need to be prepared.

As they say, fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride. Let's take the ride together, starting with what we know. 

As you prepare for this wild and crazy school year, please keep in mind the goals outlined in the Reentry Plan. 

First, remember that our students – and our staff, too – are returning from a traumatic life disruption, and we need to take extra steps to meet their social, emotional, and cognitive needs. Oddly, this might turn out to be a silver lining. For a long time now, our students and families have been crying out for more social and emotional learning and support at school. There's been a growing need for better understanding, more empathy, improved self-awareness and identity, and relationship building. 

Another goal of the Reentry Plan is to equip our students with the knowledge, skills, capacities, and resources to return to school with an increased ability to adapt to potentially changing scenarios. 

Yet another silver lining. For years, we have talked about the need to close the digital divide, to provide one-to-one technology, to help our students become better global citizens. This, of course, opens a chasm of challenges for impoverished students, the neglected and abused, immigrants, language learners, and those with learning disabilities. These are not excuses, however, for not embracing this chance to provide more opportunities for our students. 

And finally, the third goal of the Reentry Plan is to develop short and long-term learning goals for students. This goal centers on societal and educational disruption. Once again, I see this as an opportunity to personalize education for our students, meeting their needs while we teach them to be adaptable and capable, no matter the setting.

As you can tell, I am trying to take a positive approach to our pandemic response. But believe me, I am well aware of the headaches it's creating (excuse the pun). I have had many a sleepless night worrying about what's on the horizon.

This is going to be a very difficult year. We are going to struggle. We are going to make decisions that aren't always going to be "right." But we are going to get through this. Together.