One of the best things about working for the Utah State Board of Education is the ability to visit schools across the state. I attended schools in all 41 districts and many charter schools, where I was able to mingle with our excellent educators. These educators are shining examples not only for their students in the classroom, but also for the families, friends and communities they serve. Our educators have gone through many of the toughest years of their careers, yet they welcome the new year with hope, eagerness and enthusiasm.
Educators are often found living quiet, unassuming lives, not seeking great wealth or a place in the spotlight, but happy enough to have the chance to make a difference in the lives of their students and the school community in which they live. they serve. In a very real sense, they help build our future by educating our next generation of parents and leaders.
Miki Conklin Rowan, a teacher at Hurricane Elementary School in southern Utah, was one such influential and inspiring educator.
Miki died of cancer just a day after school ended last May. I had the privilege of reading a touching social media post about Miki’s life that was recently shared by Principal Matthew Lowe. In the post, Principal Lowe shared a story from Miki’s family of how Miki showed care and concern for her students even as she neared the end of her life. Director Lowe wrote:
“The day before she died, Miki started saying and experiencing things in her life as if she were there in the moment. They were vivid memories or hallucinations, and maybe both, but she was there in the moment. In one of the sweet moments at the end, after she couldn’t speak, she was a first grade Spanish teacher again. She was pointing her watch and pantomime at her students and smiling… she was definitely with his students at that time.
Principal Lowe described Miki as “a rare person who could work harder than you on a project and still make you feel like the job is yours. It could tell a story about you… and make you the hero of the tale. Miki was simply a builder.
The desire to be a builder was one of Miki’s guiding principles in her personal life, as well as in her classroom. She even had a note with the words, “Are you building?” posted on her mirror so she can see it each morning and answer the question for herself.
In the coming days, students, teachers, and administrative staff across Utah will return to school for another year of learning, teaching, socializing, and participating in extracurricular activities. I like to think of each new school year as a fresh start – an opportunity for us to reassess, reset, and recommit to being the best people we can be.
One way to make this the best school year yet is to follow Miki’s lead and work together to to be builders.
Let’s work to build trust with and between educators, staff, parents and communities.
Let’s build positive classroom and school cultures so that every student feels connected, loved and safe.
Let’s build partnerships with parents with the common bond of wanting the best for their child.
Let’s build stronger support ecosystems for working adults in our school systems.
And finally, let’s work to improve outcomes for all students so they are prepared for their future and to contribute to a stronger democracy, economy and citizenship.
This school year, let’s be better. Let’s dedicate ourselves to making positive changes. When you leave your house in the morning, when you grab your car keys or your lunch box, or when you look in the mirror one last time before stepping out into the world to start a new day, remember to ask yourself , as Miki did, “you build?”
Sydnee Dickson has served as the Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction since June 2016.