Reaching the halfway point
As we near the end of 2020, and undoubtedly one of the most unconventional school years any of us have experienced, it is important to take note of how far we have come since the pandemic changed the face of our education system nearly nine months ago.
What seemed insurmountable in the spring became part of our learning landscapes this fall, with classrooms coexisting as physical and virtual spaces, shifting the framework for what and how learning looks like for our school communities.
As I visit with teachers and administrators, I witness how they are working harder than ever. Access, equity, delivery of instruction and monitoring the physical and mental health of students and staff are among the many challenges of this school year. All of our educational staff and partners, including school nurses, administrative assistants, aides, food service workers, bus drivers, custodial and maintenance staff and every member of our school communities, share the challenge of taking on additional responsibilities to ensure learning continues for students. But in a year full of unpredictability and pitfalls, the reassurance of their efforts is helping our students and communities with the resources they need as we work together to find a way forward.
All of this comes as our student population changes, creating yet new challenges. The latest edition of the Annual Condition of Education report shows how diverse Iowa’s student population has become. More than one in four Iowa students is a minority student. Over 42 percent of all Iowa students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and 6.5 percent of students in Iowa’s public schools are English language learners.
Schools are the cornerstones of our communities and provide essential services to those they serve. Complicating the challenges that schools face in providing those services are the added hardships endured by families who lack the resources to support their children’s learning at home. That, in turn, widens the educational disparities for some of our most vulnerable students. The work that our schools are doing to meet the emerging needs of their families and to engage with every learner is more important than ever.
Meeting students where they’re at and helping them grow is challenging under normal conditions, but I am encouraged by the continued passion and commitment of our educators and school leaders as they adjust to each new challenge the pandemic throws our way. While navigating these rapidly changing circumstances hasn’t been easy, we have learned that we can adapt and will continue to do so to ensure a brighter future for our students, and ourselves.
Thank you for your service, and I look forward to serving you in 2021.