It’s that time of year again when democracy, when at its best, plays out in legislative halls across states, as elected officials debate, struggle with, and discuss difficult budget and policy matters that impact our communities. At stake this year is the quality of life for many across our nation who are struggling with economic insecurities, outsized rental housing prices, and rising mental health crises, often with insufficient services available. In addition, as a nation, we are struggling with how to account for the rise of technological advances that have been lauded as critical to knowledge development and innovations without the necessary safeguards for our children and youth. This is not an easy time to lead in public office in our nation. The stakes are very high, and even the discourse on our foundational value of democracy itself has been challenged by some.
Never has the role of public education teachers and leaders been more important in safeguarding the intellectual spaces where children and youth can talk about how they are understanding, receiving and wanting to engage with the difficult policy issues of today. From matters of curriculum and history erasure, to questions about who deserves to be included and to whom we extend or don’t extend compassion, to the resegregation of many neighborhoods and schools during the height of our nation’s greatest student diversity, our young people see, hear and understand. And they want to talk.
And so, as we go into this legislative session, this is not the time to become discouraged and pull back our voices. Democracy assumes engagement, it assumes diversity of voices, it assumes a willingness to engage in hard discussion because it assumes that we value people, ideas, and community. Our students are watching us and listening to us. We must lead.
And so, as we welcome in the month of February, a time when we celebrate Black History Month, consider the tremendous learning and engagement opportunity that is before us to explore the breadth of contributions of our Black brothers and sisters to democracy, to innovations, to ideas, and to our policy chambers. As one student shared at a recent Voice4Equity High School Girls Policy Academy session, “It’s so offensive to be in high school learning about the same three or four Black leaders that we learned about in first grade!” Our students want deeper conversations. Let’s challenge ourselves to keep their education spaces sacred for the deeper learning and engagement they want. Our biggest caution today in protecting our democracy is ensuring that we do not interrupt and silence the thought leadership developing among our youth. They must be prepared to think, to consider, to love, and to lead, and we are leaving them with some incredibly challenging issues to contend with.
This month I know you will enjoy our interview with Dr. Christina Grant, who shares her thoughts about school choice design models, governance, and responsiveness to student needs. You will also learn about several of our upcoming leadership networking opportunities where we bring thought leaders together across states.
I also want to personally encourage you to support women leaders in your district to register for and attend the upcoming When Women Lead summit in June, where as women leaders, we dare to create a space that inspires, celebrates, challenges, and prepares us as equity policy leaders in education. Last year’s sold-out event left us feeling motivated, connected, and loved. Join us!
Stay well, lead boldly, and love deeply!