What a difference a year makes.
That is essentially how Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman started her third State of Education Address to the State Senate Education Committee.
That difference was evident immediately as Superintendent Hoffman, thanks to the Coronavirus, delivered the address virtually from her office at the Arizona Department of Education as opposed to the in-person speeches she delivered her first two years.
The Superintendent salutes the Students, Teachers, and Parents for working through the COVID Pandemic.
Superintendent Hoffman spent the first portion of her address praising the efforts of students, teachers, and parents as they worked through the hardships inflicted on public schools by the effects of COVID 19.
Ms. Hoffman commented:
“But throughout this pandemic, while many of our school facilities have been closed, teaching and learning have not stopped.
Our schools have gone above and beyond to deliver instruction safely, and to desperately fill the gaps Arizona families are facing – to offer everything from food boxes to counseling services to a sense of stability in their children’s rapidly changing worlds.
The pressure on our schools has been immense, but they have risen to the challenge, transitioning to new learning models and a new reality with innovation, quick-thinking, and adaptation.
If you ask me where to find the best and brightest – the most innovative and forward-thinking – I’ll tell you to look to the classrooms of our Pre-K through 12th-grade teachers.”
Toward the end of her address, the Superintendent relayed:
“I have seen school principals and superintendents continue leading through profound pressure, even leading instruction for students on days when substitutes could not be found.
I have seen staff across our schools take on new responsibilities, learn new skills, and find purpose in their roles to serve their students and families in whatever way possible.
And I have seen our students step up and lean into this moment, showing us the leaders that they already are.
For example, last spring, while the White Mountain Apache Tribe in the Pinetop-Lakeside community was facing a serious COVID-19 outbreak, teachers Kevin Wooldridge and Eric Fogle worked remotely with students from their Physics and Engineering Club and CAD Design and Robotics classes to design and develop life-saving PPE for medical workers. In one week, students made hundreds of PPE, creating 471 face shields for seven healthcare institutions in the Show Low, Pinetop Lakeside, and Whiteriver communities.”
She reminded viewers that many metro schools and those on the Navajo Nation have yet to resume in-person learning, close to a full year after schools shut down for spring break and did not open their doors for the remainder of the 2019/20 school year.
She expressed sympathy for the many families that have faced severe personal, familial, technological, and financial hardships (not helped by the low paying state unemployment system) difficulties that have compromised their abilities to get their children fully involved in virtual education.
Superintendent Hoffman calls for the Legislature to fill Local School District Funding Gaps.
While voicing appreciation for the federal government assistance toward schools to withstand the devastating fiscal effects the Coronavirus pandemic has had on schools and districts, Superintendent Hoffman called for the legislature to follow through on a passing a Senate Education bill that would fully fund schools that are educating students through distance learning.
She also called for the State Government to tap into the rainy day fund to help fully fund rural schools, commenting:
“There has never been a more urgent time to tap into our safety net and provide for Arizonans. Anyone who thinks it’s not raining in Arizona right now needs to check their privilege.”
“It is absurd to talk of tax cuts when there are so many families with basic needs our state can help meet.”
“That is why, today, I ask you to join me in being the leaders our students and communities need. Seeing the future through our students’ eyes means seeing the value and need for a high-quality public education system and enacting pro-family policies that help students thrive.”
“By focusing on science and facts and leading with empathy and kindness for the struggles Arizonans are facing, we have an opportunity to choose hope, to see our students as the future of our state and collaborate on solutions that can uplift every family and every student in Arizona.”
Superintendent Hoffman warns of the exponentially increasing Teacher Personnel Crisis.
In her first two State of the Education addresses, Superintendent Hoffman has warned about the teacher personnel crisis that has plagued Arizona Schools.
COVID 19 has only made this crisis exponentially worse.
Ms. Hoffman said:
“We could not afford to lose a single educator at the start of 2020 – but the demands of navigating a classroom in a pandemic has exacerbated the strain on our workforce.
In periods of distance or hybrid learning, I have had teachers tell me they were working 15 hours a day, and weekends, to create engaging lessons for students learning at-home while also supporting students learning in-person.
This workload is unsustainable, and we already know of teachers who have either bought themselves out of their contracts or are planning to not renew their contracts for the next school year.”
The Superintendent expressed approval for some of Governor Ducey’s education budget ideas but not the ones that could result in staff reductions. She praised Legislative District 28 State Senator Christine Marsh’s bill to evaluate the strains associated with overcrowded classrooms and additional paid family leave for all workers as expressed in a proposal from LD 29 State Senator Martin Quezada. She also expressed support for Representative Lorenzo Sierra’s preschool entrance grant program.
Ms. Hoffman also saluted the many community alliances that have been forged during the pandemic with tribal nations and organizations like the Boys and Girls Club.
The Superintendent concluded her address by calling for collaboration and working to move education and progress forward for the children’s sake.
She finished by stating:
“After a tumultuous start to this new year, it is of utmost importance that elected leaders commit to lifting up our students. We must see public schools as stewards of our future – not as institutions that can be shortchanged for ideological and political purposes. And it is imperative that the lessons we have learned over the course of this tragic pandemic are put into action.
When we see human suffering and division, we must choose to look for solutions based on empathy and mutual respect. In the words of our first national youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, “For while we have our eyes on the future, History has its eyes on us.”
I sincerely look forward to beginning a new era with you, one that our children can be proud of – one rooted in our history, in collaboration, in honesty, and in kindness. A future rooted in support of our communities and their public schools.”
Superintendent Hoffman is right. The public servants in the State Government, school communities, and social/civic organizations should be banding together to strike the right strategy and make the right financial investments in steering Arizona Public Schools on the right path during hopefully the ending stages of this COVID 19 Pandemic and in the rebuilding process for the state education system.
To not come together and attempt to fund schools on the cheap will not suffice.
The State’s Leaders need to do right by Arizona’s students, teachers, and families.
Please click here for the full transcript of Superintendent Hoffman’s 2021 State of Education Address.