School districts are nearing the end of a school year like no other. A school year that began with remote learning for most students gradually transformed into hybrid or in-person learning by year’s end. Each approach was unique.
Such is the beauty of our nation’s school system. Locally elected school board members work with superintendents, teachers, parents, health care officials, and others to decide what works best for their communities and the students they serve.
In her nearly 30 years as a school board member, Dr. Viola Garcia thought she had seen it all until the pandemic hit. Appointed to the Aldine Independent School Board in Texas in 1992, Dr. Garcia is Aldine’s longest-serving board member. Now, she’s also NSBA’s first Latina president. She follows, albeit 25 years later, Sammy Quintana, who served as NSBA president from 1996-97 and was the first—and only other—Latino president of NSBA.
While their presidencies are 25 years apart, similar challenges awaited them. For example, the term “digital divide” originated in the mid-1990s when a government report found widespread inequalities in access to information, defined as access to a telephone or computer and modem. Most severely lacking access were individuals of color and individuals living in rural areas.
Sound familiar? Today, we still have a digital divide that disproportionately affects rural areas and individuals of color. As difficult as the pandemic was, it highlighted the digital divide, also known as the “homework gap.” The American Rescue Plan includes $7.1 billion to close this gap while President Biden’s proposed $2 billion infrastructure plan would contribute $100 billion to expand broadband access. Would policymakers have focused on the digital divide without the pandemic? I like to think so, but 25 years of history proves otherwise.
In a conversation with Dr. Garcia, she wondered if we would continue to operate as we had, or would we “be stimulated by new opportunities—or even fear of a future pandemic and the need to prepare for it while the experience is fresh?”
That’s a question I would also pose to you.
The pandemic forced us to move faster than we would have without it. When school buildings closed, states and school districts rushed to provide internet-connected devices. Teachers refined their skills to deliver online instruction. Virtual school board meetings saw high interest and participation among parents, students, and community members.
As the school year ends, reflect on everything you did differently over this past year. To overcome the learning loss, trauma, and other challenges our students face, it will take the same innovative spirit that got us through this past year.
Like you, we at NSBA are learning from the pandemic. We are building on our 81-year history and transforming our federation to become more responsive, proactive, and member-driven. Like you, I’m thankful for the lessons we’ve learned and the progress we’ve made in a year like no other.