Dr. Matt Hillmann
Northfield Public Schools
MASA President

The start of the 2022-23 school year feels the most “regular” since 2019. The pandemic has a substantially lesser impact on planning for the school year and the day-to-day operations of a school district. I cannot imagine there is a MASA member who isn’t feeling a sense of relief because of it. While we have been exhausted by it, we should take pride in our communities’ reliance on us. 

History is yet to sort out what pandemic-related policies were wise from those that were not. There is one clear message: public schools were the most effective unit of government during it all. And, in my opinion, it wasn’t even close. Take these examples into consideration:

  • Regardless of how someone feels about the decision to shift to distance learning or not, it is clear that our economy depends on public schools to provide a safe, productive learning environment not only for children to learn but so our economy can thrive. Some downplay that role, but it is crucial.
  • Our systems were able to make massive shifts in programming and academic instruction in days — and pull it off in a way few could have predicted before.
  • Public schools were the hubs for distributing food — the confidence we could change our food service model to ensure communities had regular access to nutritious meals was critical for the stability of families.
  • The ubiquity of COVID-19 testing availability coincided with public schools becoming involved. 

The crisis revealed, once again, how essential public schools are for our communities and in American democracy. This year, I will use this theme for my four columns in the MASA newsletter.

With the mid-term elections upon us, public schools again will serve as a political football. Many of us dread that role, but I encourage you to accept it and lean into it. Public schools will always be at the center of political debate in America. For now, we remain a microcosm of American society. The issues being discussed at kitchen tables make their way into our schools because of it. These issues can be thorny, but skilled school leaders navigate them and help our communities understand whether or not they have a tangible impact on our ability to educate students and help them grow.

As we move forward this school year, let’s fully embrace the foundational role that our schools have in our nation. This year can be an opportunity for a “reset” – a chance to re-design systems to support all students and prepare them to participate fully in our democracy. It will be a year when we can play a role in healing our society. Let’s lean into our responsibilities in preparing every student for a future that we cannot adequately imagine the possibilities and challenges they will face. I have complete faith that Minnesota public schools will once again deliver for our state and nation. Leadership matters! Enjoy the energy that the start of a new school year brings — especially this school year.

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