Stepping up and leading
From the Executive Director, Wesley Smith
April 13, 2020
Several weeks ago, a state official told me that education leaders need to “step up and lead” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, I try to remain calm, cool and collected. At this moment, however, I had almost lost it. I was upset that our members were being called out when, in fact, they were the best example of “stepping up and leading.” On March 7, Elk Grove Unified School District superintendent Chris Hoffman was the first to announce district-wide school closures and the suspension/cancellation of district activities to protect the health and safety of students, employees, and his community. What a lot of people don’t know is that there was a push to have the state help take ownership of decision-making and communications. Hoffman, his team, and the Elk Grove Unified board of trustees were left to face the backlash alone and it was severe (although not “the state,” county superintendent, Dave Gordon, did stand by Hoffman’s side and defend the decision).  While protecting the students, teachers and staff was paramount to Hoffman’s decision, the most contentious part of the decision was the cancellation of a state high school playoff basketball game. Parents were irate and one media agency reported that the needy student-athletes wouldn’t get scholarships because they didn’t get to play in that one game. It’s worth mentioning that the game was rescheduled. Five days later on March 11, the NBA suspended its season. One day later, the NCAA cancelled all March Madness games and the California Interscholastic Federation canceled the remaining games in the state basketball playoffs.  Scientists and health care professionals believe Hoffman and EGUSD made the right call, closing schools almost a week before the NBA, NCAA and CIF made their decisions. That is precisely what stepping up and leading looks like and it wasn’t the only tough decision that had to be made by an educator who puts students’ needs above everything else. On March 9, superintendent Don Austin and the trustees in the Palo Alto Unified School District decided to suspend state standardized testing because, amongst other things, the data would be unreliable, invalid and because it was absolutely inappropriate to give emotionally strained students a standardized test as soon as they returned to some resemblance of normalcy.  State officials didn’t like the decision and even attempted to force PAUSD to change their minds and their statement. They would not. On March 18, the state suspended standardized testing based on similar reasons Austin and PAUSD made the decisions nine days earlier. This again is what stepping up and leading looks like. In a time when we are being asked to provide high-quality education, provide meals, care for younger students, and pay our employees without explicit guidance, statewide education leaders of all job-alikes are stepping up and doing what is practical, doable, and in the best interest of their students, employees, and communities. Leaders are innovating and collaborating. Leaders are inspiring their communities. Leaders are stepping up and leading when their communities need them most, and ACSA is here to support and protect you as you continue to step up and lead.
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