This is my first column as president of NSBA, so I’d like to introduce myself to those of you I haven’t met yet.

I grew up as a military brat: a badge of honor that I and children like me in military families wear proudly. It’s a badge that represents the stressors, adversity, and cultural experiences—the results of frequent moves—that help to make us resilient.

My father modeled that resilience. He served our country for 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a Chief Master Sargent. He was my hero.

Living on a military base, the space program was a huge deal for me. I have a clear memory of watching Neil Armstrong step out of Apollo 11 onto the surface of the moon.

Imagine seeing your military dad—always a pillar of strength—openly cry while jumping up and down, yelling, “We did it! We did it!”

From that moment, I was hooked on NASA. I watched all the launches and returns, a tradition I continued into my adult life with my own family.

Of course, my family and I were big fans of “Apollo 13.” The movie has many memorable moments, but one stood out for me then and even more so, now. It is the point at which mission control realizes that it must address high levels of carbon dioxide in the lunar capsule. Ed Harris’ character charges his engineers with making a square filter cartridge compatible with a round one.

The engineers gather material and objects that are available to the astronauts and dump them out on a table. Through trial-and-error, knowing that the astronauts’ lives are in danger, the engineers come up with a solution.

Much like the Apollo 13 team, school board members have a choice. We can lament the situation in which we find ourselves. And as we do, the carbon dioxide and exhaust will continue to increase until public education is strangled.

Or we can recognize that we, as school leaders, are mission control. We must pull out our cardboard boxes filled with policy books, guidelines, handbooks, and whatever tips and lessons we have learned through the years, and dump the contents on the table to come up with solutions.

We might not realize it, but three years ago, when COVID struck, school board members had to operate like NASA engineers. Sure, there were times when things broke off, and we had to grab our duct tape and head back to the drawing board. But we initiated plans that worked for our districts, finished the school year, and restarted school that fall.

Throughout the history of our country, there always have been opponents of public education. Many are now organized around a false narrative that parents’ concerns are disregarded by school boards and public schools.

Nothing could be more misleading. Who do you serve with on your school boards? How many of your board colleagues are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or guardians of children in your school district?

Over the next 12 months, it would be my honor to visit your states, shake hands with you, and hear about your challenges. I also hope to share in your celebrations and join you in jumping up and down, yelling, “We did it! We did it!”

I am surrounded by true friends and colleagues on the NSBA Board of Directors, the leaders, and the staff who all want the same thing: for NSBA to continue to be a great organization.

Just like our space program, which throughout the years has overcome significant challenges, NSBA is here to stay.

Kristi Swett is NSBA’s 2023-24 president and a member of Utah’s Salt Lake City School Board.

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