This is a letter from Okaloosa Superintendent of Schools Marcus Chambers.
With the closing of the 2019-2020 School Year, I wanted to personally thank you, our students and parents, for not only all that you have done over the course of the school year, but especially for what you have accomplished over the last 9 weeks during this pandemic. This year has been a challenging one, to say the least.
On March 13th, when we left school, excited at the prospect of a relaxing Spring Break, many of us had no idea we would not step foot inside our schools again this year. And, after our schools closed, we learned that our public schools are so much more than just a building where learning happens for our students.
We were all reminded that our public schools are places where students are taught, challenged, loved, and nurtured. Our schools are places where parents, teachers, staff, and administrators work collaboratively to make a difference in the lives of our most precious resource: our students.
When we departed for Spring Break, we had no idea that as parents, our lives would change as we would transition into a dual role of teacher and parent. For many of you this was a challenge, as you were not accustomed to the curriculum, the technology, or the daily challenges of teaching. Yet, you did it side by side with your child’s teacher. You did it side by side with your child. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for teaching, leading, encouraging, and parenting your child through this pandemic and ushering your child to the finish line.
To our students, you never cease to amaze me. In Okaloosa County, we are praised for being one of the best school districts in Florida. For that I am proud, but I know exactly what leads to this appreciated recognition. We are blessed to have amazing teachers, staff, and administrators, but we are equally blessed with the most outstanding students. Each of you comes from diverse walks of life, varying upbringings and different life circumstances and… each of you achieved despite the struggles. You achieved because of the hard work and dedication you bring with you to school each day.
During this pandemic, you have shown your grit, focus, and determination and for that, I could not be prouder. You have learned time management, resourcefulness, perseverance and the ability to succeed in the face of adversity. These lessons learned will serve you well as you move forward in life. When times get tough and challenging- and they will- you will be able to call upon this experience, COVID-19, and know that as you conquered this challenge, you, too, will overcome future challenges.
Parents, many of you sheltered in place with your children and had the added stress of juggling working from home with helping your child learn how to operate on an entirely new online learning format. You stressed over and survived internet issues, iPads or Chromebooks not working, Zoom meetings for your child and Teams meetings for your work. Like a master juggler, you helped your fluctuating schedules come together and your children’s schooling stay in the forefront when the newness wore off. The grace and compassion you operated with was matched only by the grace and compassion your children’s teachers showed .
As weeks wore on, we saw just how many within our community lost their jobs and their livelihoods. Many of you even reached out to your schools asking how you could help those less fortunate- thank you! When the tough got going, you still encouraged your children to work all while holding down jobs or additional shifts to help make ends meet. This determination and tenacity resulted in over 95% of students at the elementary level and 97% of students at the secondary level continuing to work on their classes! Each of you deserves praise and thanks for that amazing feat.
While we do not know what next year will look like and what it may bring, I know this… our students, parents, and schools will be ready! I am so proud to be your Superintendent of Schools, and I am humbled by the manner in which you handled such unprecedented times.