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Back-to-School Message from the Chair of the Council, Barbara Jenkins

  • It is hard to believe that we are celebrating the start of another school year! As this year’s chair of the board, I am honored to address the school boards and superintendents of our GREAT CITY SCHOOLS. In Orange County, we welcomed 204,000 students to school on August 10th.  Our students come from 197 countries; speak 172 languages and dialects; range from affluent to homeless; and include all learning levels from gifted to severely disabled.  We often remind our staff and community that a homeless student may also be gifted.  It’s just harder to identify them as they deal with such struggles. It remains the great privilege of all urban educators to serve such a beautiful tapestry of young people. 

    Like many of you, I honestly thought this school year would be vastly different from last year.  I don’t mean I was hoping to return to normal.  “Normal” is over-rated and was not serving all students at the highest level.  We were hoping for a school year free of extreme COVID-19 issues and the additional burden the virus placed on districts last year. Many were also planning to capitalize on the innovations and flexibility realized despite the pandemic.

    Unfortunately, the Delta variant has plunged the nation back into very different school operations.  In addition to educating children, school districts are once again expected to deal with vaccines, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, quarantines, and the ever-present debate over face masks. School boards, superintendents and school leaders must also console understandably agitated parents and manage unruly board meetings.  These are challenges most educators and school board members did not sign up for.

    So, we all seek wisdom and guidance every day during these challenging times.  My prayer is that each of you will continue to lead students to success while also guarding your own well-being. I applaud the Council for hosting weekly conference calls for school board members and superintendents that have proven invaluable to member districts.  

    Finally, allow me to share a few guidelines that are probably similar to your own:

    1. Do everything in your power to keep students and employees safe and attend to their social-emotional needs.
    2. Manage well what you can’t control and make the best use of unprecedented resources provided by the federal government for recovery efforts.
    3. Accelerate, don’t just remediate student learning, taking advantage of innovative ideas and flexibility afforded by the pandemic.
    4. Attend to your own health and social-emotional needs.

    To my colleagues across this great nation, allow me to say thank you for all that you do every day on behalf of more than eight and a half million incredible students in our member districts. Godspeed! 

    Barbara Jenkins has been the superintendent of Orange County Public Schools since 2012 and is the current Chair of the Board of Directors of the Council.