YEAR-AHEAD SERIES, DAY 11: Duluth schools / Face 2021 with grit, perseverance, resilience, hope

From the column: "I continue to return to the words that were a hallmark of my teaching."

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Grit, perseverance, resilience, and hope. These were words that adorned my classroom walls throughout my career. When students read novels, poetry, or dramas, these words became the themes they pulled out of the narrative. These were the words they found that connected themselves to the characters. These were the themes they used to help them empathize and grow their compassion for others.

These are the same words I use now as we navigate educational change, from school closures to students learning in a fully online space, with a landmark year now closed. I can’t help but wonder what 2021 holds for our students and their education, but I believe it rests in the words that were on my classroom walls.

Grit, the pairing of courage and resolve along with strength of character, is witnessed in Superintendent John Magas and his team, as they confront the many layers of decisions, data, and details that are fundamental to maintaining the district. We’ve had to rely on the grit of experts in our health, education, and local leadership in order to reach our primary goals of safety, high-quality instruction, and equity. We will continue to need grit as we are still experiencing the darker days of the pandemic.

Perseverance is captured in the hearts of our teachers and staff as they are working harder than ever to keep learning alive during the pandemic. I recognize the dedication, diligence, and perseverance of our teachers as they continue to meet the needs of our students now in 2021. I know our teachers aren't doing it alone. With the leadership of our principals, the hard work of our paraprofessionals, and so many others, they will continue to adapt, implement, and improve.

Resilience and the resourcefulness of our students in navigating their lives during a pandemic has been inspiring. As the coronavirus threatens health and upends daily life, our students have risen to the challenge with spirit and resilience. We acknowledge it is not easy. Students have learned the skills of Google Meet and how to solve technology glitches. They’ve mastered the skills of online collaboration and creative approaches to learning. Understanding that you can do hard things gives you confidence to handle life's challenges.


Hope is what will propel us forward. Hope was found in the Dec. 14 New York Times headline, “Hope in the Darkest Hour — as vaccines are administered in the US.” With our better understanding of the virus, our increased ability for testing, and now the promise of vaccines, hope inspires us to continue to work hard to begin a return of our students to the classroom.

I am hopeful for the continued sense of giving that has emerged during the pandemic. As a school district, we have worked to make our food program more accessible to families and partnered with many community organizations to meet a variety of needs. Gathering toys for a brighter holiday season for many families is just one of the many ways our students have joined in. Churches, youth services, nonprofits, and many others have added extra outreach to meet the needs of our community. Even in the most challenging times, there is reason for hope.

I continue to return to the words that were a hallmark of my teaching. These words, along with the support and teamwork of my fellow board members, have allowed me to survive in this chaotic time. We bring passion, dedication, and commitment while focused on the safety of all students and staff. And in doing so, we’ve strengthened our resilience and deepened our gratitude. We will be better for it in years to come.

Jill Lofald is the elected representative of District 4 on the Duluth School Board and served this year as board chair. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the invitation of the Opinion page.

Jill Lofald
Jill Lofald

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