Dear Scottsbluff Families,
Our nation’s schools have found themselves in a unique position as the COVID-19 crisis evolves. A situation that initially appeared to be one that everyone would approach like-mindedly has evolved into one in which there are quite varied ideas and perspectives.
On one level, our decisions are made much easier with the clarity of the State’s Directed Health Measures. Like any policies or rules, however, the objectivity and initial simplicity of these expectations often gets muddled in the details of implementation. On the broad scale, for example, the directive to close schools was clear. However, the manner in which instruction and services would be delivered has brought challenge after challenge to schools, to students and to families. That’s easy to understand and everyone is giving it their very best – achieving some exceptional results given the circumstances.
Looking ahead, what does seem certain is that the complexity and uncertainty of tomorrow, next week, next month and beyond make it very difficult to plan with confidence. Added to that ambiguity is the obvious: none of us has ever done this before. None of us has ever experienced a global pandemic. There are few precedents, few models and few historical benchmarks that can be applied to the unique time and circumstances that we are currently experiencing.
In unsure times like these, leadership and decision-making can flounder. The ship can get lost in the storm as the winds keep changing. When I was a young principal, Dr. Jerry Patterson, a former superintendent and important mentor of mine, wrote something that has guided me throughout some of the most challenging times of my life and my career, “Resilient leaders draw strength from their ability to clarify and articulate what matters most to them rather than reacting to events. Under tough conditions, event-driven leaders react to every external force. They are battered by the political winds of the moment and they let these storms cause abrupt changes in their direction. Value-driven leaders have ballast, a core set of beliefs that provides stability. They are motivated because they are using their energy to realize cherished values.” In turn, I’ve often challenged new leaders, “If you don’t know what you believe, how will anyone else?”
I’ve viewed this observation as even more important for organizations and systems. Successful organizations (such as school systems) achieve because they remain true to clearly developed and well-communicated core values. During my decade here – and well beyond – this school district and community have valued the well-being and safety of our kids above all else. And we’ve been outspoken about it. How many times, for example, have you read that overused sentiment (that surely must sound obligatory and hollow at times) that says something like, “The health and safety of your student is our number one priority”? Dozens of times, I suspect.
What’s clear, however, is that for our school system, for Scottsbluff Public Schools, our children’s health and safety really is our top priority. That truly is what we believe as an organization, and our actions, should always reflect that. Student well-being drives our decisions. It drives our resources. Sending your children back home safely is the single most important obligation we have each day. It’s even more important than teaching and learning. Parents in almost every home say a silent prayer each day – though rarely spoken or consciously thought – that their children safely come home to them that night.
And, so, it’s clear to me that remaining true to our long-held core value of protecting your kids’ health and safety as our primary obligation, is the best and only way to navigate the ever-changing winds of these times. It is that same core value that must start and end every decision we make as we interpret and implement important directives and determine specific practices and procedures – things like how and when we’ll reopen; how we will start up our sports and activities; how we will again safely welcome the public into our events and facilities. How do we get students’ possessions back to them? How do we continue to distribute community meals? How do we disseminate computers, report cards, information and equipment? How do we hold graduation? How will we do summer school? When and how can and will our staffs return to their workplaces (and end the frustration of trying to conduct all this from our kitchen tables)? We will drive ourselves crazy and, more importantly, fail to serve this community well, if we fail to rely upon and find counsel in what we believe in the most.
Right alongside the safety of our students are the safety of those they love and the safety of our hundreds of staff members. We know that the health measures in place are intended to protect all of us. We are also quite aware of the economic impact and obligations we have as a school district to support the fiscal well-being of this community. Our high school is a dramatic example of that commitment – and, yes, of that core value. We cannot ignore that priority either. And we would not be true to our own organizational beliefs or community values if we didn’t say that loud and clear.
The health, safety and economic vitality of this community have clearly evidenced themselves to be our highest of priorities and will continue to drive our work and our decision-making. It is critical that Scottsbluff Public Schools continues to stand up for these values throughout this COVID-19 struggle. And, it is important to me in my role, for you to know that these very same values will continue to be at the core of all we do as we move forward.