“Every Student Matters” has been the theme of my presidency. The fire in my belly, as passion is often described, is even greater now. Traveling across the country and meeting so many like-minded school board and school committee members, administrators, and others supportive of our children has been a most inspiring experience. Thank you so much for your support of me and NSBA. You are all my heroes. There is no more honorable group than school board members. It has been my greatest honor and privilege to serve as your president this past year.
It’s been a tremendous year. Following our well-attended conference in San Diego, we had a successful Summer Leadership meeting with representatives who helped us redefine our priorities and set further direction for us as an organization. In Miami, we convened for our largest CUBE Conference ever. We moved into 2023 with a successful Equity Symposium and Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C., as we met with our elected officials on Capitol Hill. Each of our convenings had amazing, inspirational keynote addresses and engaging sessions with dozens of best practices we could apply in our districts to better meet the needs of our students.
Together with the First Learning Alliance, we launched Here for the Kids. This initiative provides opportunities to share an accurate perspective of public education, building support for our public schools and the millions of kids that attend them.
Many have asked me, “Frank, why are you so passionate about public education?” Well, there’s always a story! Mine starts in the post-Reconstruction period following the Civil War. Because Kansas was famous for the efforts of John Brown and the struggle against slavery, it became a destination for Black Americans. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton led this massive migration of families who became known as Exodusters.
This was the American Dream for my ancestors and many others who were descendants of enslaved people: to come to Kansas, which was then the land of opportunity. What was this dream? Freedom from share cropping by becoming a landowner. This dream provided an opportunity to begin to level the playing field. My father’s and my mother’s families both left Kentucky in search of that dream. The federal government provided opportunities to homestead land and become independent. Times were very hard and the weather very cruel. Many settlers were unable to survive. The small Black settlement of Nicodemus, Kansas, where many settlers landed in Kansas, still exists today. From there, they then moved throughout the state.
As a teen, the other dozen descendants in my age group and I spent many hours driving tractors and learning how to dream. We quickly realized that education was the vehicle to see our dreams fulfilled. We had strong families, strong faith, and some amazing teachers. Most of us attained graduate degrees and several received law degrees.
I share my story to tell you this: A strong public education system is the key to dream fulfillment. Education is a civil right. It should meet the needs of each student and provide them the opportunities to meet their God-given potential. The achievement gap exists because the opportunity gap exists.
I exhort you to continue to provide the best for each of your students. We are the keepers of the dreams for those young minds. We share the responsibility to see those dreams fulfilled. Their opportunities are limitless. The decisions we make in our boardroom are critical. Let’s continue to support our most cherished resource. They are worth it. Every student matters.
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