Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to all in our Christmas City of Prescott. We all know this is one of the most different years of our lives, and I wish you and your family all the best. No doubt, we are all honoring the importance of our families more than ever and wishing we could share more hugs. When the time comes, we will be hugging machines.

I do not have to tell you that 2020 has not been the year we had hoped for in our schools. This is the year we had planned to celebrate our 150 years of PUSD and public education here in Prescott. While celebrating in person has not been an option, we are proud to recognize this milestone as a cornerstone of our community, or what we refer to as being the “heart of the community.” I want to reflect on the major challenges of COVID decisions and how we look forward to coming out of the pandemic. We will rise from this challenge like we have with past hurdles, reminding our community of the amazing things that happen when passionate teachers and children are able to spend time together. While our path has been somewhat dreary in
2020, our future has always been bright. The students of today and the leaders of tomorrow are extremely capable and inspiring.

Decisions have not been easy, nor have they been popular. As one of my Arizona colleagues recently said upon announcing her retirement after 50 years of public education, “We have some healing to do. The pandemic has not brought out the best in us.” This polarized thinking is working against us. What if we reframed that thinking and told ourselves that even though our schools are physically closed, our students can still receive a quality education? Working together on this common cause would not only unite us, but also give momentum to doing what is best for our kids.

Watching the buildup of positive COVID cases, resulting quarantines, and the effect on our workforce capacity was like watching a huge storm building. What was avoided by having students and staff stay home cannot be entirely known or easily demonstrated. Once I found myself pondering how many cases or deaths would be “enough” to convince the upset people that it was wise to keep people home, I knew the way quickly. I’m not programmed to take risks with kids’ and teachers’ well being. For my life and career, it has been a “no-brainer” that we do not send our people into harm’s way. If there’s snow, we close the schools; if there is lightning, we bring the kids inside. I won’t even get into sex education, teaching to look both ways before crossing the street, or the risks of drugs, alcohol, school shootings… This is a big question for our society right now, not just for me. We do not take blind risks with teachers and kids. We do, however, teach them to take calculated risks. We teach them to challenge themselves. Most importantly, we teach them that they have value and are an important part of our society.

This pandemic has been painful and frustrating for all of us on many levels. From a professional standpoint, it has kept us from some of the things that we love most about our jobs; the things that we are great at. But like any crisis, if we look closely, we see example after example of creativity in our remote classrooms every minute. Teachers are constantly innovating, finding ways to share their longtime, amazing style through the fiber optic lines and into the homes of our students. Kids are creating unbelievable applications of learning, sharing examples fashioned from household items while on a screen in their bedroom, demonstrating a new skill with their teachers and classmates. Counselors and Social Emotional Therapists are working with students and teachers to create strategies designed to get students talking in healthy social and emotional ways, every day. Educators are sharing newly learned tips and secrets of how to engage students on a computer. Let’s not forget, student engagement has always been a challenge, solved by the magic of teaching.

Yes, we are finding incredible and miraculous ways to do this teaching through computers. But we know that virtual learning will never compare to the impact of body language and facial expressions of in-person teaching and learning. We have said that all along. We know that the social emotional needs are not being met. We have warned about that right along with everyone else. We understand, and we are saddened that sometimes school is safer than
home. We have poured unbelievable resources into that failure of our society. We are and will continue to make the best of that situation. We cannot wait to get back to our face to face interactions with our students. That is why we became teachers.

PUSD educates approximately 4,000 students each year with nearly 450 employees. Our students are well rounded and high achieving. Our staff is award winning, loving, caring and innovative. We can not wait to come out on the other side of this pandemic. The magic of teaching and learning has not gone away, it is happening right now. And when we have conquered COVID, our teachers and students will rocket into the next 150 years of preparing our children for the future. Watch out Prescott, here we come. Every Child, Every Day is not going away.