President’s Message: Susan Heredia
Neither normal, nor one-time is good enough for our students
It’s common these days to long for a return to normalcy. Amidst the death and disruption of the past 16 months, people want to go back to the way things were. I think we can all identify with that. Yet, when I hear people talk about a return to normalcy in the context of public schools, I cringe. The truth is that normal was never good enough and we should be using this opportunity to develop a better education system that serves the whole child and meets the diverse needs of today’s students and families.

Led by Policy Analysis for California Education, CSBA and more than 40 other education associations, labor unions and advocacy groups came together to embrace this idea in the form of a brief titled, “Reimagine and Rebuild: Restarting School with Equity at the Center.” The brief contends that inequity in our schools — in terms of access, opportunity and outcomes — has disadvantaged many students, and that the pandemic has exacerbated this problem because of its disproportionate impact on low-income students, English learner students, students with disabilities, foster and homeless youth and students of color. In order to meet the goal of providing all students with a high-quality education, schools must address not only the immediate trauma stemming from the pandemic and school closures, but also the longstanding disparities that have prevented many students and schools from reaching their true potential.

Susan Heredia headshot
“The present moment, however, offers a chance to address some of the funding challenges while rethinking our approach to educating all students.”
Susan Heredia, CSBA President
Schools, as you well know, are working under serious constraints that prevent us from fully addressing student needs. Decades of inadequate funding have left us without the resources to properly serve a population with increasing needs. In other cases, a kind of inertia or a paucity of imagination has held back attempts to make advances for students. The present moment, however, offers a chance to address some of the funding challenges while rethinking our approach to educating all students. In the words of the brief, it is a time to “reimagine and rebuild.” We welcome this opportunity, yet in addition to planning for the next few months, or the next year, we must also remain mindful of what’s needed for the long-term stability of public schools and the success of the students we serve.
illustration of students sitting, and studying on and surrounded by oversized educational supplies
There’s no denying that, from a resource standpoint, 2021 is an exceptional year. There has been breathless media coverage of the infusion of funds into our schools, both from the state and federal governments. This is cause for praise, but it doesn’t erase the fact that these resources are no more than what our children deserve, nor does it excuse the fact that funds are long overdue. Another critical point to keep in mind is that these funds are almost exclusively one-time funds while our children’s needs are ongoing. What becomes of our students after we invest this one-time money in additional programs, services, staff, compensation and facilities — only to see the money disappear after the first year? It would be cruel and counterproductive to tease students, staff and families with the resources they have needed all along, only to then pull out the rug from under them because the money was a quick fix — not the sustained support our schools and communities require.

If we are truly going to reimagine and rebuild, we cannot settle for anything less than the resources needed to improve our schools for the long haul. When we acquire this level of funding, we can implement and maintain the practices called for in the PACE brief by:

  1. Centering relationships: Prioritizing the development of caring, nurturing relationships and high expectations for all members of the school community and emphasizing one-on-one meetings between teachers and students.
  2. Addressing whole child needs: Conducting individual assessments and developing plans to address the academic, social-emotional, and mental and physical health needs of every child.
  3. Strengthening staffing and partnerships: Investing in staff and community partnerships for high-leverage programs and support like one-on-one tutoring, student wellness screening, expanded learning and re-engaging students who have dropped out or become chronically absent.
  4. Making teaching and learning relevant and rigorous: Focusing on standards and teaching grade-level content through culturally relevant curriculum.
  5. Empowering teams to reimagine and rebuild systems: Creating teams to ensure that the work of the restorative restart is systematized and memorialized so that it can serve as the long-term foundation for local education efforts.

I’m excited that California’s leading education organizations have united behind a strategic approach to education that centers students and takes both historical and current conditions into account. I am also apprehensive that after full-time, in-person instruction resumes statewide and the crisis is deemed over, state and federal legislators will return to their tradition of undervaluing and underfunding public schools. We can’t allow that to happen. Instead, we must channel our energy as education leaders into making sure that this moment of investment in schools and children becomes the new normal for California.