Apr 14, 2021

Education Stories From the Field – Leading During a Global Pandemic

Heather Zavadsky
CCNetwork Liason
Field with wheat plants growing

At the beginning of 2020, reports of a mysterious and potentially deadly disease outbreak in a single Chinese province seemed like a distant concern to the United States. But by January, the outbreak had spread to the United States and dozens of other countries, and in February, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave it a name: COVID-19. On March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic, and soon after, schools across the country shut their doors to in-person instruction. 

What would you do if you held the top state-level education leadership position in such an unprecedented time? How would you make decisions and prioritize your actions in a state of emergency where time is of the essence? And how do you begin to formulate a careful and considered response when information about the threat—the virus—is constantly evolving?

This project documents how education chiefs in four states—Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming—responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in their states, creating structures, guidance, and resources for their state education agency (SEA), local education agencies (LEAs), and the general public.

Over the course of a series of interviews at both the state and local levels, the National Center learned how these leaders made decisions, identified priorities, and provided supports to districts and students. The project, which is still ongoing, documents these state leaders’ actions and decision-making processes across the timeline of the pandemic to date:

  • March 2020 – Navigating the Sudden Closure of Schools
  • July 2020 – Planning for School Reopening
  • September 2020- Implementing Reopening Plans
  • February 2021- The Push to Increase In-person Learning
  • April 2021 – Vaccine Availability; The End of the 2020-21 School Year
  • Up Next:  Planning for the 2021-22 School Year

Over the past year, the National Center learned directly from state leaders about how to best support educators and keep education going within school systems that were already facing resource and equity challenges. Looking ahead to the 2012-22 school year, we anticipate these leaders will build upon the lessons they learned and the challenges they faced as the country continues to navigate “the new normal,” and apply the knowledge they gained to make their states’ education systems more effective, more resilient, and more equitable for all students.

To see the first timeline phase of this project, visit the National Center web page.