The challenges of change

Being forced to change the way one has to live is never easy and always subject to spirited debate. I understand that. As a young person growing up in New York, I well remember my father (a proud New York police officer) being incredibly upset at two changes he vehemently disagreed with – seatbelts in cars and the elimination of public smoking on airplanes. He often told me that he didn’t fight in World War II to have his rights as an American limited. I think the discussions we had at our dinner table influenced my desire to become a history teacher, as I desired to learn more about his generation and why certain social changes were often met with controversy. It helps me understand our challenges today, especially regarding masks.

Truth be told, nobody likes to wear masks. However, we believe that our ability to keep students in school and our classrooms open is tied to requiring masking all of our students and employees. The decision to mandate masks in compliance with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department’s Directed Health Measure was not without much internal and external debate. At the end of the day, however, we believe our responsibility is to the collective safety of more than 50,000 human beings.

Despite objections from some in the community, the “science” we follow is that of our local medical professionals and health department. We also relied on our past success in avoiding major building closures last year due to spread. That tells us that masks, distancing and hand washing were the key factors. We also are aware that a mask only on one person is not going to be as effective in reducing spread as masks on all persons. Thus, requiring masking of all is our best strategy at this time.

Our hope is to have the masks removed as quickly as the medical professionals feel it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we appreciate the tremendous support we receive from our parents, students, staff and community.

While we are debating how to keep our students and staff safe during the pandemic, others are worried about loved ones in Afghanistan during the Taliban takeover of the country. Our bilingual liaisons reached out directly to the families impacted by the news and provided them with resources and supports. We understand this news also impacts those in the military (and their families) who served numerous tours in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. LPS embraces our staff, students and families who are feeling the impact of recent events.

The opening days of school were exciting as we saw many students, parents and staff eager to begin. I so enjoy those moments and know that the experiences our staff provide for children will create lasting memories. We welcomed more than 300 new and eager teachers this year, which is about average for the last decade. We are truly fortunate to be able to recruit, develop and retain outstanding educators and leaders.

It is also exciting to see construction progressing on the new Northwest High School and Robinson Elementary School. They are beginning to look like school buildings ready for students and staff. Next fall will be an exciting time for students and families in those communities. The fall of 2023 will also bring the opening of Standing Bear High School in south Lincoln.

I close by thanking our parents, staff and community members who continue to believe in and support the public school mantra of “all means all.” We will get through this pandemic and LPS will continue to provide high quality educational experiences for all of our students.

Steve Joel