Leadership During Crisis: Lessons and Learnings from the League of Innovative Schools - Digital Promise

Leadership During Crisis: Lessons and Learnings from the League of Innovative Schools

April 29, 2021 | By

The COVID-19 pandemic may have disrupted traditional classroom instruction, but it has not stopped schools from fostering meaningful connections and engaging in robust, student-centered teaching and learning.

As challenging as the pandemic has been, a common theme has emerged among the League of Innovative Schools: Embrace the innovations of the moment as designs for the future.

We recently surveyed League superintendents to learn their hopes for education; the lessons they’re carrying with them; and their insights into practices and ideas that will continue to shape education in 2021 and beyond.

What are the most pressing challenges facing school districts at this moment?

“The unknown long-term effects of the pandemic on our students. We must put the mental well-being of our students, staff, and families first.”
– Dr. Kristine Gilmore, D.C. Everest Area School District (Wisconsin)

“School districts are facing unprecedented challenges associated with meeting individual learning needs of students—needs that must be addressed in equitable ways, and with understanding of the new realities our students face. These challenges come at a time of growing fiscal constraints, when spending on education should be prioritized and expanded.”
– Dr. Jeff Hauswald, Kokomo School Corporation (Indiana)

“No matter the type of learning taking place now, our systems will need to be responsive to current needs and account for the setback that has taken place for nearly a year.”
– Matt Miller, Lakota Local Schools (Ohio)

“Districts need to continue to provide students with voice and choice in their learning; support the innovative approaches of their teachers; embrace family engagement strategies; and most importantly, not slide back to the practices of the past.”
– Dr. Mark Benigni, Meriden Public Schools (Connecticut)

What are the most exciting opportunities that exist in education at this moment?

“Using what we have learned from the past year and retaining newly acquired practices, we can use these moments to truly change and reform our educational system for the benefit of all students.”
– Dr. Melvin J. Brown, Reynoldsburg City Schools (Ohio)

“We can leverage the technologies and methodologies that we were forced to use and turn them into tools we want to use.”
– Dr. Michael Nagler, Mineola Public Schools (New York)

“We have learned tremendously about learning, technology, and resiliency during the past year. We must reflect and take the new good and give up the old that never worked for all students.”
– Dr. Kristine Gilmore, D.C. Everest Area School District

What should the education sector prioritize right now?

“The education sector needs to prioritize the whole child, which includes social-emotional learning (SEL). Academic progress cannot be fully realized without addressing SEL with a systemic district-wide approach.”
– Dr. Melissa Moore, El Segundo Unified School District (California)

“Take care of the needs of students, families, and staff who have suffered throughout the pandemic.”
– Mary Grow, East Irondequoit Central School District (New York)

“Remove barriers to learning and licensing to encourage people to enter the field of education. Also, develop new kinds of education leaders.”
– Joel Coleman, Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind (Utah)

“The education sector must build relationships and communities where students feel recognized and cared for, and where they can broaden their horizons.”
– Dr. Eric Tucker, Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School (New York)

A hope I have is…

“We will continue to look for ways to move our kids ahead academically, emotionally, and socially.”
– Matt Miller, Lakota Local Schools

“Increased possibilities for 24/7 learning—we are better equipped to deliver even more powerful learning opportunities, and the importance of learner agency is stronger than ever.”
– Tom Rooney, Lindsay Unified School District (California)

“That we do not lose sight of what we have been able to do together as educators, and we use it as a springboard to continue to reimagine education.”
– Dr. Mary Catherine Reljac, Fox Chapel Area School District (Pennsylvania)

“We will embrace the changes that make sense for education and student learning. Our district must continue to foster community partnerships, embrace innovation, and support the creative approaches our teachers utilized to engage all students.”
– Dr. Mark Benigni, Meriden Public Schools

A lesson that I am carrying with me is…

“We should never underestimate the power of the relationships between teachers and students.”
– Willam Porter, Mentor Public Schools (Ohio)

“Now more than ever, our students need SEL to deal with the past, present, and future challenges they face.”
– Dr. Melissa Moore, El Segundo Unified School District

“Educators are resilient. Education is essential. Equity is mandatory. Equipping students for a changing future is obligatory.”
– Dr. Jeff Hauswald, Kokomo School Corporation

“Having strong, trusting relationships with your staff, including and especially with your organized labor leaders, is key to finding common ground during difficult times.”
– Erik Burmeister, Menlo Park City School District (California)

“Our organization is more adaptable than we previously believed. We must keep a focus on innovating our learning models around the needs of our students.”
– Dr. Kristine Gilmore, D.C. Everest Area School District

“Always keep the needs of learners at the center of all decisions and actions. Never allow anything to be an excuse for why we cannot give learners what they need. Be uncompromisingly learner-centered, no matter what.”
– Tom Rooney, Lindsay Unified School District

As a League district, what is an insight you would offer to other districts?

“If your district intends to be fully committed to tackling equity and social and racial justice, do the very important work to learn and understand the historical contexts that purposefully created the inequities that have existed throughout our history and are thoroughly ingrained in the accepted practices of our nation and our world.”
– Dr. Melvin J. Brown, Reynoldsburg City Schools

“Moving forward, this is a great time to closely examine instructional practices and determine what needs to remain as a powerful practice and what might need to be discontinued.”
– Dr. Suzanne Lacey, Talladega County Schools (Alabama)

“We have the opportunity to take the disruptions that we have all experienced and use them to propel us in new ways. We should be daring, be collaborative, be selective in what we do, and be passionate in a way that is infectious to others.”
– Dr. Mary Catherine Reljac, Fox Chapel Area School District

Want to hear more from League leaders?

Digital Equity & Innovation Chats are bite-sized videos featuring district leadership on topics including technology and internet access, educational equity, racial justice, and social and emotional learning. Watch now.

Connect with the League of Innovative Schools on Twitter at @DPLeague and follow the #DPLIS hashtag to stay updated on network updates.

Sign Up For Updates! Sign Up For Updates

Sign up for updates!

×