Jeff Elstad
Owatonna Public Schools
MASA President

“You must never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”  — Admiral James Stockdale

You may be aware of the Stockdale Paradox, named for Admiral James Stockdale and his time as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. A colleague and I were recently discussing how this same paradox could be used to describe our current situation navigating the pandemic and what it means to us as school leaders.

The pressures on district leaders are enormous: pandemic, financial concerns, political division, social unrest and more. All of these issues find themselves in our schools, as we are simply a microcosm of the communities we serve. What is abundantly clear is that we have been asked and will be asked again to step forward and provide hope not only for our students and staff, but for our entire community.

Admiral Stockdale was keenly aware of the brutal fact that POWs would be tortured and some put to death. With this in mind, he found a way to communicate with the other POWs to keep their spirits up and look forward to the day they would prevail in their efforts to stay alive. Although our circumstances are not as dire, we are still charged with the task as leaders to keep our staff, students and communities looking forward to better days and times ahead.

It has been a while since I have used the term “merchant of hope” — however I believe that the challenges ahead will require us as school leaders to share hope for a brighter future through calm, confident and caring leadership. It is not always easy to be cast into the role of leader through tumultuous times, but it is clearly part of our role in times like these.

Leadership is a calling to inspire those whom we serve. I cannot think of a better group of professionals than all of you to be the merchants of hope for a brighter future. I consider it an honor and privilege to serve with all of you and am proud to call you friends and colleagues. Together, we can be the merchants of hope that our students, staff, families and communities need.

If I can be of any assistance to you please do not hesitate to contact me at

Keep the faith!

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