May/June 2020

Leadership Letter: Schools Continue to Serve Despite Historic Challenges 

By Thomas E. Bertrand

None of us will soon forget the unprecedented challenges Americans faced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Schools and school boards faced school governance and operational changes, from conducting board of education meetings to ensuring continuity in learning and reliable meals for students and families.

Our schools and school board members rose to the challenge. I was amazed by the genuine concern of school board members for the children who were impacted by board-level decisions and the creativity and dedication of our districts in meeting these challenges. Schools across the state were forced to quickly transition to Remote Learning for students. School board members learned new skills and stayed engaged through virtual connections. Boards sought solutions to ensure the continuity of learning for students as well as those aimed at extending support to the larger school and healthcare communities.

Schools are the hub of our communities and the epicenter of so many memorable events in the lives of our children. I know that school board members and school administrators agonized over decisions that led to the disruption or cancellation of many valuable school experiences and learning opportunities for children. I also know that our school boards acted first in the best interests of the nearly two million public school children across Illinois.

I hope that by the time you read this column, we are looking forward to a new school year without the cloud of a public health emergency. I know there are more challenges ahead as we all navigate how the economic impact of the pandemic will impact school funding. I know that our school boards will continue to model stability and effective governance and will continue to act in the best interests of the children that we serve. Know that IASB stands ready to continue to serve members as you face these challenges.

I leave you with a quote by Dr. Edith Eva Eger, author of The Choice: Embrace the Possible, and survivor of Auschwitz.

“What happened can never be forgotten and can never be changed. But over time I learned that I can choose how to respond to the past. I can be miserable, or I can be hopeful — I can be depressed, or I can be happy. We always have that choice, that opportunity for control.”

Thank you for your continued service to our students and to your communities.

Thomas E. Bertrand, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Illinois Association of School Boards.