In the midst of a global pandemic, local educational agency boards have continued working to support programs and initiatives that offer students the academic and social-emotional opportunities they need — no matter which mode of instruction they are in. CSBA’s 5 questions series gives board members a chance to share the accomplishments of their LEAs and their experiences during this challenging time in their own words.
Lamiya Hoque, board member, Centralia Elementary School District
What is the most successful initiative your board has spearheaded during the pandemic?
Earning the trust of our staff and community and being responsive to the changing needs of this pandemic has been our most successful initiative. Our board has championed efforts to support students and families with the needs caused by the pandemic, including issues as basic as addressing food insecurity through our food services department’s meal distribution program. While we began the 2020–21 school year in distance learning, we prioritized a safe return to in-person with strong health and safety protocols and successfully reopened at the end of September. At each meeting, we are informed of the local health conditions, any changes to state and federal guidance and impacts to the learning program. This information permits us to make informed decisions.
We continue to focus on the needs of our students by emphasizing social-emotional learning and attention to wellness. We already see students responding positively to our engagement strategies. With our staff, we have demonstrated an openness to listen and respond to their concerns, leading to the implementation of rigorous health and wellness protocols that enable our staff to teach in person and in distance with confidence and trust. It seems that every month there is a new challenge to address. As a board, we must continue to listen to our communities, listen to the guidance and make the most informed decision possible.
What has been your board’s biggest challenge during the pandemic and how are you working to overcome it?
One of our board’s duties is to set direction for the district. While the priority of our district — our “why” has not changed — the pandemic has forced our district to look at the “how” differently. Each board member brings with him/her individually valuable perspectives of how schools should operate in a pandemic. These perspectives are forged through personal experience, conversations with staff and community as well as our own personal education of what the health experts recommend. Our challenge as a board is to come together at our meetings and bring forth the perspectives of many, discuss the issues at hand and jointly make governance decisions that advance our mission. Of course, we have to do this with the resources we have and changing guidance. I like to keep an open mind behind the reasoning for each perspective as it can lead to enlightenment.
What is the biggest misconception you’ve heard about school boards/education during the pandemic?
The biggest misconception I’ve heard is that the main challenge is for us to get back to normal. It may be a while until we can achieve normality [like] prior to the pandemic. Currently, our focus is to plan how students can come back to in-person instruction with COVID safety protocols. Recently, we just implemented engagement labs as an intervention for our hybrid students. By providing space at school during their asynchronous days, students have the opportunity to work on their assignments in a school environment. Though the pandemic has disrupted educational learning, Centralia Elementary School District is dedicated to implementing innovative approaches to ensure flexibility for our student’s education.
What are your hopes for the future of your district both short and long term?
Currently, my focus is to ensure our students are provided with a safe education. I believe students should be in school with in-person instruction, but I understand how complex the situation is. We are going to keep trying to find a way to achieve this goal. This is going to take all of us, our parents and our staff, to work together and support decisions that help children. Our district has been successful because we have a great team of certificated, classified and management staff who work together in challenging times to solve complex problems. This gives me hope that we will find a way to achieve this goal.
How long have you been on the school board and why are you passionate about your work?
I joined the board effective December 2020. I also served as the vice-chair of the school district’s Bond Oversight Committee, where I served to protect our tax dollars. My passion derives from my gratitude. I attended Centralia Elementary School here in the district where I was educated by kindhearted teachers. My primary education was the foundation for my achievements to follow. I graduated with my bachelor’s in environmental science and policy and currently I am pursuing my master’s in public administration. I truly believe education leads to development. To quote Malala Yousafzai, “books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.