by Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten
This past year-and-a-half challenged everyone on such a huge scale. And our students were among the hardest hit by the disruptions of the pandemic. Without in-person classes, Friday night football games, spring musicals, and so many other opportunities to develop deep and nurturing in-person relationships and make lasting memories in school, it was a challenge to create a strong sense of community. As a former administrator and teacher, I understand how important that feeling of togetherness is to achieving school success.
Collectively, our nation’s schools serve as more than just a place to learn—they’re an oasis of possibility and potential to be realized. That’s why I’m so encouraged that schools across the country are fully reopened for in-person learning and that educators are applying the lessons we’ve gleaned over the past 18 months in ways that support students’ social-emotional and academic growth and development in new and innovative ways.
To be sure, this school year offers a chance to reimagine the experience of school … to provide all children with access to a great education that sparks the joy of learning and that helps them thrive. The need is urgent, especially for students in under-resourced communities, who, for too long, have been hindered by circumstances beyond their control. We know, as we recover, that we can’t go back to the status quo; we can’t go back to a system that works for some and not all; and we can’t allow opportunity gaps to continue to widen. The time to take decisive action is now.
But we’re not going to get this right without having honest conversations with the educators, students, parents, and community leaders who are the backbone of our nation’s schools. This week, we will have the opportunity to do that in North Carolina and Georgia with the SAFE Community Engagement Tour. This tour is a reflection of the Department’s commitment to work with communities and stakeholders directly impacted at all levels, to address both the pandemic and our education system’s historic inequities.
The tour will focus on creating and maintaining safe, healthy environments for learning and highlight strategies that education communities can use to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. It will feature experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House COVID Task Force, Department of Education leaders also will be on hand to answer questions that relate to successfully navigating this very challenging moment.
We know that the transition back to school hasn’t been easy, but it’s so necessary for the success and wellbeing of our children. Education leaders deserve to have the most up-to-date information so they can focus on what matters most: teaching our nation’s students.
More than anything, this tour is an opportunity for us at the Department of Education to listen and learn. Secretary Cardona, our colleagues, and I are looking forward to hearing feedback that will better help us reimagine education for every student. We need all community members to be at the table if we’re going to be successful. Because while it takes a community of caring adults to teach a child, it takes teamwork to build that community.