Catherine Schumacher, President & CEO of Public Education Partners

With everything that teachers have had to endure over the past six months, we should all take time to thank them. Educators, the Greenville County Schools administration, and a wide range of individuals and organizations are working day in and day out to improve educational outcomes for Greenville’s children while also prioritizing everyone’s safety.

Gratitude is powerful. As Brené Brown’s hundreds of thousands of followers will attest, cultivating a sense of gratitude can actually rewire your brain so that you are more capable of navigating the toxic stress of our 21st Century lives. Or, more to the point, the toxic stress of 2020.

Back in March, I was invited to share my thoughts on how the pandemic was impacting public schools, especially here in Greenville County, where since 1985 Public Education Partners (PEP) has led collective efforts to improve student achievement. Gratitude was the central theme. I closed that article with three pleas: Be well. Stay safe. Thank a teacher.

Six months later, those words still apply. If anything, they are more relevant. Millions of our fellow citizens have gotten sick, hundreds of thousands have died, and the long-term health and economic repercussions remain hard to predict. Tens of thousands of Upstate public school students, teachers, and families are navigating a complex mix of learning options — none of which is perfect for everyone, and all of which require significant sacrifice and patience. Sadly, those traits seem in short supply right now.

In light of all of this, teachers have embodied the resiliency and creativity that they strive to model for their students. The much-needed summer break was consumed by online trainings, lesson plan adaptations, and building virtual teaching studios in living rooms and kitchens. Since August, classrooms have become production centers for online learning sessions, and carefully designed spaces where children can come together in-person to safely learn with their peers.

In all of this, teachers’ responsibilities have continued to grow. They respond to emails in the middle of the night, talk caregivers and students through using new technologies, and worry about the children who aren’t transitioning well. They do all of this while exposing themselves to a virus that we still don’t know everything about, trusting that their principals and administrators have their backs and are doing everything possible to keep both them and their students safe.

At PEP, we are committed to elevating the voices of teachers whenever possible. They are the experts, just as scientists are the experts when it comes to issues of Covid-19. But they are also human. They are our parents, our friends, our partners. Parishioners in our churches or neighbors down the street. Greenville County Schools alone employees 6,000 teachers — a significant workforce that is woefully and systematically underpaid, and whose voices are not listened to enough by the elected officials that continue to kick the can of education and funding reform down the road.

We know that the road to economic recovery may be long, but I hope that we will agree that the overwhelming burden cannot be carried on the backs of our public education system alone. In the wake of the Great Recession, K-12 education funding was cut by 20%. It took 12 years to return to pre-recession levels – just in time to welcome a global pandemic.

Early next year, our General Assembly will convene in Columbia for its next two-year session. It is impossible to predict where we will be by then, but it is clear that to lay the groundwork for a lasting recovery, we must prioritize investing all the resources we can muster in our teachers and public schools. South Carolina was already facing a teacher recruitment and retention crisis of unprecedented proportions, which this pandemic will undoubtedly exacerbate. We need data-centered strategies and strong leadership.

Advocates for public education must be ready to make their voices heard. You can start by learning which candidates fighting for your vote on November 3rd are true champions for public education. Critically, get to know the candidates for your local school board election. In Greenville, six of the 12 school board seats are on the ballot this year, and PEP has a School Board Questionnaire to help you learn more about the candidates. We also encourage you to sign-up for our Action Alerts, which will keep you informed on critical education issues and make action easy.

I’m so grateful for the teachers that my two boys have every year, but especially this year. So in their honor: Be well. Stay safe. Thank a teacher. And you can start with your choices at the polls.

Catherine Schumacher

President & CEO

Public Education Partners

Public Education Partners (PEP), founded in 1985, leads our community in acting collectively to support, strengthen, and advance public education and student achievement in Greenville County Schools. To that end, its work focuses on Elevating Teachers, Empowering Advocates, and Engaging Communities.