This week, the late summer sun will rise over the San Gabriels and shine its early light on our schools, beckoning all students to begin a new chapter in their educational story. But unlike any other year, those cherished places won’t be filled with the laughter and energy of a first day back. There won’t be jovial lines of cars or jubilant families walking past the guided hand of a crossing guard, or the inviting smell of a welcome coffee. The air will be void of the klaxon of the first bell, or the distinctive smell of new textbooks, floor polush and sharpened pencils.
To our students, they will begin this year unlike any other they’ve experienced in their lives. Without any of the common comforts of a social school environment, they’ll work from the solitary glow of LCD screens. They’ll double-click on files, enter their thoughts in chat windows, struggle to connect to conference calls, submit pictures of their coursework, or mimic physical human gestures by clicking little icons.
To our parents and guardians, their ability to care for their children will be challenged every single day. Their hopes and dreams for what they considered a “traditional” path of education will be harder to see. In many cases, the only sure thing they can promise them is a hug and words of affection. But they too have fundamental distractions. Their wages are shrinking, if not being altogether eliminated. Their living environments are becoming drastically less affordable. The chasm of difference of what “new normal” even means varies between one family and another, and it’s getting wider every day.
How can we come together for change when we’re operating so far outside the comfort zones of what we’ve known about educating our children? To that question, I say that we have to find a way. There’s never been a better time in our community’s modern history, where so many minds are focused on the education of their children. By most estimates, over 8,000 people tried to get into a zoom call about the district’s fall reopening plan. 8,000 people! I recall, not too long ago, we were lucky to have twelve people attend a board meeting.
It is in this singular moment, for better or worse, that our minds are immersed in every facet of education delivery and on the tips of our tongues are common words like equity, opportunity and achievement gaps. Because of that, I believe that this is a singular moment to embrace the unknown rather than to huddle in its fearful shadow. We have the opportunity to thrive in that space of discomfort and use it to propel us forward. This is our time to embrace the challenges we have in front of us to design a better tomorrow.
As we’ve seen, our PUSD school leaders have labored all summer, trying to design a fall educational program in compliance with county, city and state guidelines, even while the goalposts of health and funding have shifted almost every day. They have had an impossible task to ready our community, and our teachers, by August. They have created models that make every attempt to stabilize inequity, maximize safety, and satisfy the unique aspects of all of our signature programs. They will by no means get everything right, but we owe them our grace and trust that they are trying to get there. But now, it’s time for all parties to establish a real partnership to make it better. This is not business as usual, and no one has all the right answers. Education will never again be the way it was, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Public Education works best when it’s a conversation between those that entrust it to educate their children and those who govern it. It’s the handshake agreement that the best approach forward addresses the needs of the community in which it operates. Our schools are the lens to our futures.
This is our time to solve the persistent gaps of achievement, and the depth of curriculum in developing as much of the whole child as possible.
This is our time to ensure that our broken school funding models are repaired.
This is our time to address the unaffordability that drives so many of our families to other communities.
This is our time to change in how we lift up our least fortunate, close the gaps that divide us and, most importantly, advocate for the proper funding of our educational models.
This is our time to say to our district leaders, open the doors and let us in. Let’s build broadly understandable ways to assess our progress, embrace our mistakes, and not be afraid to course-correct in a transparent way, with a truly cross-sectional divide of community members from all classes, backgrounds and investment in public schools.
Let’s gather early and often, leveraging trusted community partners like Collaborate Pasadena, Pasadena Education Foundation, Pasadena Education Network, City Council, Innovate Pasadena, United Teachers of Pasadena, Teamsters 911, CSEA, PTAs, our community businesses and our District advisory groups like District English Learners Advisory Committee, African American Parent Council, District Advisory Council, along with our currently enrolled families and even those who have made the choice to leave us for other opportunities, to contribute, help define problems, and offer concepts on where we succeed and course correct for the short term, and beyond. This crisis won’t last forever. There will be a time when we come together in physical spaces again, but we have the chance now to learn from what we get right, and what we get wrong today to build a better PUSD.
Some might caution that all the policies of change are set too far away from us and that we’ll never be able to affect things substantially. I fundamentally disagree with that thinking. The outcomes we want can and must come from us here, now, right where we live, and we must act with the notion that we are the best people to begin developing the solutions. Let the next chapter of education be written by me, by you, by your neighbors, in partnership with our District leadership.
Let the sun rise. But in its light, let us use our discomfort to blaze new trails in improving the future of public education in our community, for all of us. Let the change we make serve as the gateway for the better tomorrow we envision for our children.
This is our time.
Scott Harden is a parent of two school-age daughters, school & community leader, and candidate for the PUSD Board of Education in District 4.
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