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New School Year, New Normal: Balancing Education and Public Safety

August 10, 2020

In Episode 10, Chresal Threadgill, Superintendent of the Mobile County Public School System, talks to Chris Kane and Suntrease Williams-Maynard about the challenges that students and administrators face as we approach a new school year in the “new normal.”

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“We’re talking about the very difficult challenge of returning children to school and the educational, social, and economic impacts this decision has, and how we approach it.”

The reopening of schools is the number-one trending topic in the United States, as it impacts all communities from a socioeconomic perspective and poses significant public safety concerns.

Superintendent Threadgill shares how his district has been navigating COVID-19 and is taking steps taken to ensure all students are able to connect with their teachers.

This episode will give us an inside look at how schools are managing education, social considerations, technology, and nutrition from a macro level as administrators, teachers, parents, and students head back to school – whether it’s in the traditional or remote setting.

Transcript and Show Notes

Chris Kane: Welcome to this episode of Boom! I’m your host, Chris Kane, and I have two excellent guests today with me: Superintendent Chresal Threadgill, who is the superintendent of the Mobile County Public School System, and my colleague Suntrease Williams-Maynard. Today’s topic is really an important one dear to myself as my child as we speak is returning to school. And we’re talking about the very difficult challenge of returning children to school and the educational, the social, the economic impact that this decision has and how we approach it. I know Suntrease, my colleague, has a second and seventh-grader. My daughter is a fourth-grader. And our superintendent has, I believe, 53,000 of those children at his doorstep.

And is trying to make sure that we do the best for them. There’s a lot of different interests here from teachers to parents and school administrators to talk about. It’s a big gulp to digest, so we’re going to do our best to try to really talk about the issues and how to think about it from community to community. So with that, I’d like to turn it over, Suntrease, to you and I’d like to get to know, Superintendent, about you a little bit, and more importantly about how you got to where you are and the incredible leadership role you've taken over at Mobile County Public Schools. So Suntrease?

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: Thank you so much, Chris, and I think you hit the nail on the head. Superintendent Threadgill definitely has a unique opportunity to serve as the superintendent of the largest public school system in the state of Alabama. And I’m just curious in knowing what inspired you to be an educator?

Well, let me start off by saying, because everyone mentioned their kids and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention mine, so I have three students. I have a fifth-grader, a tenth-grader, and I also have a senior this year. So I have three kids that are in the Mobile County Public School system. But what encouraged me, inspired me to go down this educational journey comes from a long family history. My grandfather was a principal here in Mobile for 30-something-odd years. We actually have a school named after my great-uncle in Mississippi; Greenwood, Mississippi, to be exact. But some other factors, growing up I had a special needs aunt. And I used to go to the old Augusta Evans to volunteer at the school. And I just grew a heart and a passion for students at a very young age.

Now I will tell you, when I started in college, I wanted to be an athletic trainer or a physical therapist. I did not want to go into education. But something — I was drawn to education. I mean, it was almost spiritual or something just drew me to education, and I just decided to major in education. It became easy for me. So I started my career in Greenville, Alabama, where I was a math teacher, physical education teacher, and also an assistant principal. I stayed there for three years and I was promoted to Troy City Schools as a principal at the middle school, and then I was promoted again to assistant superintendent where I was over federal programs. I did curriculum and instruction. I was over special ed, and I also handled all of the discipline in Troy City Schools.

That sounds like a lot, but that job was actually preparing me for something greater. I then became the superintendent of Elba City Schools, the second-smallest district in the state of Alabama. They had many, many issues. They were a D school when I got there. They had financial issues. So we turned that school system around. They went from a D to a B+ school system. The graduation rate was 63% when I first came there and when I left they were at 93, 94, something like that.

So then I just got the burning desire to come back home and I came back home for a year as chief of staff, and then a year later I was named as superintendent, so I am in my third year as superintendent here in Mobile County Public Schools.

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: Well, we are glad to have you back home, for sure. And one of the things, I’m so glad you even mentioned your three students. You know, Chris and I shared with you that we do have children of our own that are going back to school in the midst of COVID, so in addition to your three students you have 53,000, I believe you said, other babies to also be concerned with in navigating this challenging and very much different time that we’re in. If I’m not mistaken, I believe today I just saw hot off the press the Mobile Public Schools just released a 2020 remote learning guide, a parents’ guide to the 2020-2021 school year. Anything you want to share about that?

Chresal Threadgill: Yes, sure. That’s just a 10-pager, but there’s actually 82 pages.

So we just tried to make it simple for the parents, because I know they’re going through a very difficult time. Basically it’s telling them everything that they need to know to get started. Most of it is just telling them what we will provide, what they need to do as parents, and what the students need to do moving forward. We also included in there we still will provide breakfast and lunch. We also have created a hotline as we did in the spring, so if they have any questions they can call the hotline and get any information that their needs are.

We have a different program than what we had in the spring. In the spring we used so many different learning management programs, such as Google Classroom, Moodle, things of that nature. This year provided by the state we’re using Schoology. It’s kind of a one-stop-shop and it’s very easy to navigate, so we think the parents are going to be pleased with that product.

Chris Kane: Mr. Superintendent, one of the things — this goes across really every industry, and I want to touch on it because you’re talking about an advanced, cutting edge remote learning process, virtual education. We’ve had conversations across multiple sectors and have seen a forced technological advancement that was already in place, but it takes times like this, and these are very difficult times and we all wish we were not talking about this issue and talking about Friday night lights getting ready to start back up for football season. But we’re not. And when we look at it, there’s going to be decades and probably centuries of research about your decision in terms of going virtual and having virtual education and other communities having similar decisions.

But technological advancement and the ability of our children. You know, we joke around with my parents and my daughter’s grandparents they get on us about the access to technology. Well guess what; that’s how our kids are going to learn, one way or another. Even if you’re going to school right now in person or going to be going to school in person, there’s likely going to be setbacks and quarantines and go-homes that I would expect are going to happen. And we’re all going to use technology differently.

From your seat and what you're seeing, and you mentioned just changing some technological strategies from the spring, which, you know, we were new to the COVID world to now where we’re further along and have had some opportunities to troubleshoot and try to improve. And I’d like your viewpoint on that transformation.

Chresal Threadgill: Well, let me first start off by saying there’s no replacement for face-to-face teaching. There’s just no replacement for that. Whether you're a general ed student or special needs student, there is no replacement for that. Now, with that being said, virtual school or remote school; there’s a difference, and I can most certainly explain that to you. But virtual school has been around for years. We’ve just never taken advantage of the opportunity. Some of your colleges and universities are — had started taking advantage of those opportunities, but this has, the COVID has forced us to get outside of our comfort zone and to get into the technology more.

The problem with technology, as I just mentioned, from the spring to now there’s been so many changes. It has evolved so much, and it’s kind of difficult to keep up with. Because once you get something and get it in place and get everybody trained and get the students in a routine and their teachers, it’s gotten smaller and better and faster. And it’s just very difficult to keep up, especially in the public education sector because funds aren’t that available all the time. So it is very, very fast. It evolves very, very fast, but you just have to be very proactive. Always have plan A, B, and C ready to go. So yes, we have been forced to get into this new way of thinking as it relates to technology. And we’re just getting ahead of the game with it.

Chris Kane: Yes, that’s a challenge. And that’s one of the things, you know, I think we’re going to look back on, and really, I think, see, even as you go through the first quarter, second quarter of this year, is how the innovation in technology and how it’s going to help us with virtual learning. And, look; I agree with you on the face-to-face learning component of it. And we had an option and it’s a decision that was put into the hands here for, you know, my instance. I’m privileged for my daughter to go to a Catholic school here in New Orleans and we had an option to go virtual or in person. And, you know, part of that was, you know, my wife and I both work. That’s a challenge, but she’s also an only child and that social interaction was important and, you know, you evaluate and look at what the plan is and you try to make your best decision.

And there isn’t, you know, there isn’t a right decision. Right? I think in Mobile County you’ve got 9,000-plus cases in the county alone, which is about what we have in Orleans Parish. We’re a little bit — you know, we got hit hard here early, but our numbers actually right now are trending below 50 new cases a day, and that’s a very good trend that needs to continue. But our neighboring parish, Jefferson Parish, is at, you know, 15,000+ cases, and they’re seeing close to 100 or more a day. And, you know, COVID doesn’t understand a parish line.

Chresal Threadgill: Right.

Chris Kane: So, you know, these decisions have been so tricky. And particularly, you know, I’d like to hear from you and get your thoughts in making the decision you made. You know, one of the things we’re hearing in my region here in New Orleans, and I’ve got to imagine it’s similar everywhere, is as we go virtual, there are certain things in addition to missing the face-to-face class time that are kind of the take-it-for-granted but very important components of the educational system: nutrition. You’ve done an excellent job with this offering breakfast and lunch to students. These are critical meals that students need access to, and many families rely and count on. In addition to a lot of the, you know, social considerations in terms of catching, you know, a student who is either falling behind or is having, you know, a family issue or whatever it might be in that regard, and even to some degree the health, identification of health issues that virtual learning isn’t as easy to incorporate.

And so how, you know, from your standpoint, and you guys have done just this incredible job of building a system, from my viewpoint, to try to maximize learning with our macro environment, what we’re dealing with. But how are you looking at these other issues and weighing them and figuring out how to partner or work with parents to take those into consideration?

Chresal Threadgill: Right, well I think what people are realizing is what educators have realized for years: education or school is just not about teaching. We do so many other things. We counsel. We’re like a mother/father to the kids. We feed them. We prevent child abuse. We recognize, we’re aware of child abuse. We report it. So there’re so many things that without that face-to-face our kids are losing. Social interaction.

So all of those things are in the back of my mind as I’m making these decisions, but I also have to look at the data. Now the way it was explained to me that every person that was tested, if there is three percent that test positive, that means you have it under control; you have this virus, this disease under control. Anything under five percent, you pretty much have it under control. But when you look in our area and for the number of people that are tested, the number of people that are positive in the state of Alabama is anywhere from 16–18%. That’s means it’s five times over the amount that we have this under control. Here in Mobile, it’s at 20%. So we’re experiencing 100 and 200 cases a day.

So I have 53,000 students; over 53,000 students, and I have almost 8,000 employees, so that’s 60,000 people. I just cannot take that chance of jeopardizing my kids — and I call them my babies — my students, my teachers, my faculty, my staff, and their families. So I don’t know enough about this coronavirus. It’s only been around nine to 10 months. So we don’t know enough about it to make concrete decisions, and I’m just not willing to jeopardize my students and my faculty and staff until we figure it out.

So I made the decision to assess the situation. I’m not saying we’ll never go back face to face, but I want to give it some weeks so we can assess this to learn more about it. So I have to navigate and juggle what's best for everybody. But it was a tough, a very tough, tough decision, but this is what I do, so I just made it and moved on to something else.

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: And I think I saw an interview where you were talking about that, Superintendent Threadgill, that it’s definitely not an easy decision and everyone won’t agree with it but at the end of the day, and you even talked about, you know, it’s going to cost the school district a lot of money, however saving lives is definitely priceless. So you definitely have to do what you have to do. And we’ve talked a little bit about what we’re doing in this upcoming school year; however, Mobile County was in the forefront right when this virus starting hitting and we’ve become, you know, aware of it, and you had to pivot and adjust and adapt. And you were very successful in that transformation early on. Can you share with us some of those things that you were able to put into place and how you were able to be successful in that transformation?

Chresal Threadgill: Sure. Well, the first thing we had to do, because it was in the spring and we only had two weeks, we didn’t have a lot of notice, so the first thing we had to do, we had to take care of our seniors. They were about to graduate, so we had to make sure that they were taken care of. So we had to get them devices and Wi-Fi so they could continue with their education so they can graduate. So that was the first big challenge.

First of all, we didn’t have a plan. You know, there is no coronavirus plan. So we had to create one. But once we got the seniors situated, which were over 4,000 seniors. So we got them going. We had a plan in place for them. And then we had to figure out, because when the kids left, they didn’t take anything with them. They didn’t take any books. They didn’t take any devices. They didn’t take anything. We just left. So we had to figure out how to get devices. Some of our families don’t have computers, they don’t have internet. Some of them didn’t even have televisions. So we had to figure out how can we reach 53,000 students and get through the year?

So we got to work. We assembled a team and we purchased devices. We purchased Wi-Fi for everybody. We also purchased some televisions. And then we partnered with the TV stations, channel 10 and channel 15, and we had the bright idea, because we have a TV station here on our campus, so we decided to get some master teachers to teach every subject for every grade level. And the news channels ran that all day. So that was a huge help. So for the ones that we could not get devices and Wi-Fi to, because we have some very rural areas, they actually did instructional packets, which were hard-copy packets.

So we got all of that going, and then we had to figure out how to feed them, because I wanted to make sure that they were fed. We made sure that they had breakfast and lunch. We had 66 different sites across the county and during that time fed over a million meals. So it was just unbelievable. And we did all of that work. And it sounds very simple, but we did all of that work. It was a lot of moving parts, but we did all of that. We had two weeks to get it all done.

We created a separate website just for our parents to get on to explain all of this, all the resources, all the guides. We actually had a hotline for them to call. It was 24 hours. They could call at any time to ask any question. And we had someone there to answer their questions. It was amazing how we got all of that done. But we had so many different groups that I would come up with a plan and then I would take it to a group to say, poke holes in it; poke holes in it. So I would tweak it and then I would take it to another group. So it was just amazing getting all of that done in a matter of two weeks.

Now, some of our parents were a little upset because it was so comprehensive, because neighboring systems were just, I don’t know, may have just been giving worksheets and saying okay, we’ll see you all…

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: Mr. Superintendent, you’re talking about my district now.

Chresal Threadgill: No, no, no, no; I’m not even talking about Baldwin County.

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: I’m joking.

Chresal Threadgill: But it made us feel like we were overdoing it, but I wanted to make sure that even though, as I told you before, face-to-face, you cannot replace it, but I wanted to make sure if we were doing something different, I didn’t want to lose them because of this. Because I was afraid we weren’t going to come back. And our kids already lose something over the summer, so I was so afraid to just give them a worksheet and say I’ll see you in the fall. I wanted to make sure that they didn’t lose anything. And I treat all of them — I would do the same thing for my three kids at home, and that’s how I look at things and that’s how I make my decisions. And that’s why I call them my babies because that’s what they really are. They’re actually mine. So that’s how I come up with most of my decisions.

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: You know, and I have to say, I appreciate the comprehensive plan, because I have a confession; I cheated on Baldwin County by utilizing your TV station to help me, seriously, with coming up with the curriculum for my children. So I had a chance to see it and I think amazing is an understatement, at least experiencing what you’ve put together in such a short period of time. So I just thought it was absolutely phenomenal, so good job. And speaking of your babies, too, our seniors. Obviously, this was such a difficult year for them, but you were able to also make graduation happen for our seniors in Mobile County, too. Can you share some of that as well? I had a chance to see some of it on Facebook.

Chresal Threadgill: Right, well that evolved. We first started off — I am one of those, I am very strategic, and I have a plan A, B, and C. So we actually started off with a drive-thru graduation. And I think the governor came out with a, you know, she said that we could have graduations. So we had to change that. And normally we would have it inside of the Mitchell Center. Well, of course, that was not an option. So we partnered with Ladd Stadium, which is an outside stadium, and I think the seating is some godly amount of 25,000 seats, but we kept it to one side, which is maybe 10,000 seats. And we lined the bleachers off to make sure that all the families sat together and they sat six feet apart. We also made sure that all of our students had masks for their schools. We made sure that they social distanced. And it was outside.

And the most remarkable thing about that, we did 17 graduations, because we had to split some of them up, and it took us a week and a half, and I promise you three of those days there was supposed to be a storm to come right through the graduation. And we actually did three a day. So right before every graduation when the storm was supposed to come, we were watching it on the radar, and I promise you once the time came for graduation, the storm just disappeared. That happened to us three different times. And so that’s when I knew; that’s when I knew we were doing the right thing.

So it was amazing. We had 17 graduations. We had two or three a day. We had to split three of our schools up because they’re so large, because we needed to make sure that we social distanced the kids and we only gave a certain amount of tickets to make sure that everyone had a mask on that was in the audience, and also our students. So that was also an incredible challenge, but we got through it. No one else in the state of Alabama had that many graduations without a glitch. So very, very proud of my folks for that.

Chris Kane: Yes, it’s great. And, look, those seniors deserve it. I feel bad for all the kids who were in school and who missed — you know, I played high school baseball, and, you know, my senior year was just a memory of a lifetime, right? And my heart breaks for those guys. And of course, they’ve got a heck of a story to tell for the rest of their lives in terms of that experience.

Chresal Threadgill: Right.

Chris Kane: That’s a big feather in your cap. Look, I’d like to spend a little bit of time before we conclude. I want to talk about, you said it earlier, we know very little about COVID. Maybe we know a little more than we knew in March when we got put into the position we’re in now. But between politics and between interest groups and all the stuff that parents have to, you know, you turn the TV on and your head spins. It’s so hard to figure out what’s going on. And, you know, I’d like to get your thought process as, you know, as a leader in your role of how we’re going to approach the data in looking forward to, you know, some sort of return to face to face. And obviously there’s no known time frame for that, right.

You know, we were just talking earlier, the numbers you mentioned, and I did not have that research in front of me, but your positivity numbers are, like, 11 times higher than they are in Orleans Parish. I just did the math, just looking up. We’re closing in below three percent. We’ll probably be there here next week, which is where you want to be and hope to hold. And I think that’s what you were saying. You know, that’s where you can kind of control it and the infection rate is below one. And so those numbers, you know, that gives me a little more comfort as a parent, and you made me feel a little better than I did before I got on this podcast in terms of those numbers.

But it makes sense, right? I mean you’re looking at the data and you’re making data-driven decisions. And each community, you know, throughout our footprint I think is facing, should be facing a similar, hopefully, is facing a similar analysis and letting the data determine how we approach it. And hopefully, parents can have options and do the best that they can for their children. I know in some instances they don’t, but folks are trying.

And so from your perspective, you know, you're going to get data daily. I imagine you’re inundated with data. Some data that was important in March and April like availability of ventilators we now know really is not an indicator of much, because, you know, scientists tell us ventilators aren’t what we want to be looking at, you know. And ICU beds, I heard from another physician group, hospital beds, in general, you don’t really want to look at, necessarily, anymore because there’s a lot of non-COVID increased bed usage from folks who have delayed medical treatment. So you don’t know what’s really COVID-related.

And some of these numbers, you talked about positivity, availability of tests. I think here in our region in New Orleans we’re running, I think Orleans Parish is around 1,800 tests per day. I think the goal is that you want to have about 500 tests per day in a community of our size, so we’re exceeding that. And the availability of testing and a return of those tests in a time period that is meaningful, which has been frustrating, I think, for most; that’s going to produce I think the data that you’re going to be looking towards. So tell us what you’re going to be looking for. And again, understanding I’m not trying to put you on the spot, because next week there may be a different, you know, the matrix of what we’re learning as we all experience this nasty COVID world that we’re unfortunately stuck in.

Chresal Threadgill: Right. Well, obviously, I’m looking at the data and the number of positive cases, and especially when it’s hitting home. And what I mean by that is not my personal home, but when I have employees or students or their family members who are suffering with this virus. And some have even died. And we’re having to shut things down left and right. How is school going to look when that happens? Is it really going to be school? Is it really going to be instruction going on if we’re having to, you know, every few days shut things down?

So I really don’t get into politics. Obviously, when I made my announcement, you know, it wasn’t a very popular decision. And I had several people trying for me not to make that announcement. And I asked for the rationale of why shouldn’t I make that announcement. And of course, most of them were political reasons. But my job as superintendent is to educate students. My job as superintendent is to protect the safety and the well-being of my students as well as my faculty and staff. That’s my job. The other stuff is someone else’s job.

So I will base everything off the data. If the data stays down, we will start looking at bringing some kids back. We probably still — we had another plan where we had the three options: the virtual, the remote, and the face-to-face. So we probably will bring that back, but it will not be before the nine weeks. Now, if the numbers start to decline and there is, you know, more than one day, obviously, but if there’s a trend that the numbers are going down, probably the first group population that I would bring back would be my kindergarteners or my special needs students. That’s how that would go.

Now keep in mind that from my understanding we’re still in the first phase of this. There’s a second phase when the flu season comes in, and I think that phase may be even worse. So we have to keep those things in the back of our head, too, to be proactive so we can make good decisions.

Chris Kane: You know, I think the moral of the story for me in appreciating that your role — and I really do applaud you for taking the political pressure or the politics out of decision making, particularly as it relates to education. As parents, we’re dealing with it all too much in every other category in life, and I just want to make the best decision for my child, right. That’s what we want to do. And really, you know, we prefer to do that with every decision, but this one — this one is a must. And I, you know, I tell my friends and colleagues who, you know, everybody is now an expert on COVID and on, you know, what doctors are saying about this or that and the other. It’s incredible; I didn’t know we had that many MDs and PhDs out there, right?

But we have to look at this from a standpoint of flexibility and don’t be rigid. We may think something is the right thing to do today, and we’re all human and are going to learn and are going to grow from, you know, what might have been a misstep, or in some instances, some communities are going to take a right step and, you know, we should pay attention to that and put our egos aside and say hey, let’s follow what they’re doing; it’s working.

And I feel like, you know, we do a lot here at the firm in the educational realm. And it’s across the board. I mean community to community and school to school within districts is very — can be very, very different. And I don’t shame anyone who’s sending their kid to school in person, and certainly feel the same about…

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: Thanks, Chris.

Chris Kane: …and feel the same about; that’s because if my wife listens to the podcast, I want to make sure that I’m applauding her leadership in our family household, because, you know, it was not an easy decision. But we’ve got to be flexible. And we may be very well back to remote learning, you know, in one short week; who knows. But long-term, we’ve got to keep working together, keep the stakeholders together. I don’t, you know, teachers, you know, having in some communities saying the teachers and the parents not on the same page and being put in adversarial positions is not good for the decision process and letting the data dictate what we do. And that’s just my humble experience and opinion on it.

Chresal Threadgill: Well, here’s the thing. There is no — in this situation, there is no right or wrong answer. I just told another school system, they’re a very small school system, I think they could start. They don’t have the logistical issues that a larger school district would have. So you have to look at your community. You have to look at your faculty and staff, your students. You have to look at the data. There are several different factors in this to make a decision.

Now the problem that I see is when someone makes a decision, I made my decision to go remote for the first nine weeks. Someone else may be going face-to-face. That’s not my district. I shouldn’t criticize them for what they’ve done, and they shouldn't criticize me for what I’ve done, because I’ve made the best decision for my district. So I don't think there’s anything wrong with you seeing a hybrid of decision making. I just can’t stand being critical of a system because they made a decision.

Chris Kane: No, you're spot on; totally.

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: I agree. And I think, Chris, when you said earlier, too, at the end of the day, it’s just doing the best you can. And I think that that’s what’s important. And like you’ve indicated, too, Superintendent, just not criticizing one another, especially during this time. It’s so important that we stay inspirational and try to encourage one another and motivate one another. And being a parent in the Mobile area, I know that I enjoyed one of the things that you used to do as well when the schools first closed, you would share a lot of evening or weekend motivational quotes and phrases via Twitter, you know. And I think that that’s so important to just keep people encouraged right now. We have a lot to worry about with this novel virus and how it’s impacting, you know, our communities. So I appreciate you doing something like that. And out of curiosity, do you have any — I think it’s a great way, you know, to kind of wrap this up, too, is if you have any personal favorite motivational quotes that you can share with us and keep us all on the positive.

Chresal Threadgill: Sure. Well, don’t know how positive this is, but…

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: Uh-oh!

Chresal Threadgill: No, no, no; but as leaders, we have to continue to inspire the folks that are following us. Two actually come to mind. The first one that comes to mind is “My best successes come on the heels of failure.” Even my role models, if you look at it that way, even my role models, the ones you would think as a role model, you’re looking to someone that has done everything right. But most of my role models that I can think of, what I’ve learned from them, is what not to do. So most of my success has come from me failing and saying just because that door is closed, I’m going to go through another door. Just because someone told me no, I’m going to go and ask someone else until I get a yes.

When you fail, it gives you that motivation, that strength, for me, to continue to fight even harder. I don’t know if it was just the way I was raised or what, but just because you tell me no I’m going to keep fighting until I get a yes. So I think that one is powerful. The other one is probably one I made up, because I make up stuff quite often.

But I actually said it at my press conference. I didn’t realize I was giving an original quote, but — and I don’t know if I’m going to say it right because, like I said, I’m just making it up, but “As a leader, you don’t make the best decisions for yourself. As a leader, you make best decisions for the ones who follow you.” As leaders, as politicians, sometimes we get caught in ourselves and what position we hold, how much money we make, how much power that we have. And sometimes that decision-making gets a little murky because you’re so focused on something shiny and you’re not really making good decisions for the ones who are actually following you.

And I think that’s very powerful for all the leaders to continue to assess and be aware of to not make decisions that are going to benefit you or what’s best for you. But if you’re a leader you have to make the best decision for the ones that are following you. So to me, that is very powerful. Like I said, I made it up, but that’s what I have to keep telling myself; that I have to make the best decisions for the ones who are following me.

Chris Kane: I can see that quote on the entrance of a school one day. That’s a great quote. It explains why you’re so well ahead of the curve and leading your community in the way that you are. You know, in the Gulf Coast, we already were and are very unique people in and of itself, but when you look over the last 15 years, what we’ve gone through between hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, and now this experience that we share with the rest of the country, you know, we’re kind of in little bit different positions. You know, we’ve had some disasters and hurricanes and BP spill and things like that that have required us to do that, to exercise what you were just describing, in putting not our interests in front of everyone else’s. And hopefully, you know, that leadership experience will come through and outshine and move us forward.

I will tell you this in closing, it’s half-joking, but I’m really not. I was talking to my wife about the topic today and asked her her thoughts and one of the things she had said was, well, I could tell you right now that she really is the one who did the homeschool component for us in the spring. She said if I were a teacher, this is the time where I’d be raising my hand, saying hey guys, do you think we deserve a raise? Because they do. They’re underpaid. You know, every parent — every parent that has gone through this experience understands that teaching is not an occupation, it’s a vocation. They are the backbone, really, of our communities, and I couldn’t go without thanking them. And of course, you’re leading some incredible teachers and shepherding the 53,000 children under your school system.

So good work. Thank you again for being here today.

And that’s going to conclude our episode today. Superintendent, thanks for attending. Suntrease, good luck to all of us. I don’t have 53,000 students; I have one that I’ve got to figure out how to do this with.

But this is an important topic, and maybe we’ll join again in a few months and revisit where we are.

Chresal Threadgill: I would love it.

Suntrease Williams-Maynard: Thank you so much, and thank you so much, Superintendent, for keeping and putting our babies first.

Chresal Threadgill: Thank you all for inviting me.

Chris Kane: Great. See you guys next time.