President’s Message: Suzanne Kitchens
No dreams deferred

I’d like to begin my first column by thanking my fellow school board members for the opportunity I’ve been given. I am grateful for this platform and honored to serve as CSBA President during this pivotal moment for our country and its public schools. I am deeply aware of the way in which major events can change lives, often in a manner that is only revealed with the passage of time. As an American of Japanese descent, I understand that nothing is to be taken for granted and anything can be taken away. My mother was born in Long Beach and by her senior year of high school was living in an internment camp. When she was finally released it was too late to pursue her dream of fashion school.

I often wonder how many student dreams are in the process of being lost as we cope with the pandemic and struggle with the challenges of distance learning and reopening schools. It’s a frightening thought. Too often a dream deferred is a dream denied. Almost 80 years ago, my mother’s plans to attend fashion school were thwarted by a decision that left a stain on the American legacy. We must do everything in our power to ensure that our response to today’s crisis is one we can look back on with pride decades from now.

Suzanne Kitchens headshot
“I often wonder how many student dreams are in the process of being lost as we cope with the pandemic and struggle with the challenges of distance learning and reopening schools.”
Suzanne Kitchens, CSBA President

In order to create a worthy legacy, we must focus relentlessly on student outcomes. The approach will differ from district to district and county to county, but the goal should remain the same — providing students with the best opportunities to learn and grow without presenting undue risk to their personal safety and public health. In my school district, Pleasant Valley SD in Ventura County, we carefully considered community input and the various tradeoffs of reopening our K-8 district before deciding to reopen schools on Oct. 26, 2020. It was hardly a seamless transition and we have faced all kinds of challenges, but our community and the surrounding region has worked in concert to address the obstacles.

I realize reopening schools is not a viable option for many of our school districts and county offices of education. Differences in local health conditions, student demographics, community standards, labor relationships and resource levels will result in different answers to the school-reopening question. Those districts that are not able to open in the spring, or perhaps even this summer, should demonstrate renewed urgency toward improving distance learning, implementing creative ways to support students’ mental health and developing extended learning options for when on-campus instruction does resume. As governance teams go about this work, they should pay particular attention to the outcomes for underserved groups, including students with disabilities, and low-income, rural, African American, Latino and Native American students who, on the whole, have suffered most profoundly during the pandemic.

Dreamy, sunset colored graphic of people enjoying reading and education

When I read CSBA’s 2020 Year-in-Review publication, which highlighted some of the measures local educational agencies have taken to meet student need during this difficult time, I was humbled and impressed. Our members have gone above and beyond the standard education mission and transformed school districts into food distribution services, health care providers, technology firms and child care centers. You have built cell towers, distributed hundreds of thousands of laptops, provided telehealth and virtual counseling services, fed millions of people, opened schools, closed them and reopened them again, provided hybrid instruction, welcomed small cohorts back to campus, and everything in between. All of this has occurred in an environment of extreme uncertainty and unprecedented scrutiny. I know it hasn’t been easy, but I also know you will press on because no one has suffered more than our students in troubled homes, our students without internet access, our students who struggle to learn online, our students who have been deprived of social interaction, and our students who are stricken with anxiety over the present and their future. These students have dreams and time will not stand still for them. It is up to us to seize the day and keep this hope alive.