For months, I have watched Utah school districts struggle to come up with a way to teach our kids safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve read dozens of posts from stressed out parents on social media and article after article lamenting the load on teachers and administrators. I watched a livestream of a school board meeting, where members sat shoulder-to-shoulder in an enclosed setting without virus mitigation measures.

Utah ranks lowest in America in per-capita student funding. We all understand what that means, especially now. So, how does Utah evolve from a state with the dubious distinction of being one of the nation’s most under-resourced public education systems to a state that focuses on the needs of children in a material, measurable way? It can begin by using this pandemic as an opportunity for change.

I’m from the mid-Pacific, where business and government planning is frequently multigenerational. The Eastern influence has served the islands well. We must adopt this same long view and apply it to education. Untypically American, to be sure, but necessary just the same. This is a time for visionary leaders. We must develop systems and standards in public education that meet the challenge of a post-COVID-19 world, where other novel viruses will undoubtedly occur.

With programs and procedures designed for safety and mitigation as well as learning, we can transition from a culture of collective narcissism to one which embraces our interconnectivity and, consequently, seeks to raise all boats. Isn’t that the philosophical foundation of public education anyway? Expecting our society to thrive without this emphasis now is like expecting the private sector alone to succeed at responding to a pandemic. Private education alone can’t, or won’t deliver. If we are to thrive as a community, as a state, as a country, there is literally no other way.

Sue Villani, Cottonwood Heights