Curtis Weathers

by Curtis Weathers —

Leadership is defined as the ability to guide others towards a common goal or achievement. Whether you’re an individual, a team or an entire organization, leadership is critical to the overall growth and success of your endeavors.

I bought a book recently written by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo entitled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The book is a reflection on his administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. New York was one of the nation’s hardest-hit states during the early days of the virus.

As employees and frontline workers attempted to contain the virus, Cuomo’s leadership was on national display. The major television networks faithfully broadcasted his daily briefings, which became must-see TV for the entire nation. Each one was a clinic in personal and organizational leadership.

This is the cover image of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic,” which was released Oct. 13, 2020 by Crown. (Photo: Crown via AP)

The American people had a chance to contrast his leadership with that of our federal officials. I’ll let you make your own judgment as to whose leadership has been more exemplary.

Under Gov. Cuomo, New York was ultimately successful in slowing the spread of the virus and bringing it under control.

Was he perfect?  No. He understandably made mistakes.  But what impressed me the most was the strategic clarity by which he approached this enormous challenge; his commitment to follow and explain the science, and his ability to communicate, not only to his New York constituents, but with the entire nation as well.

Leadership is so crucial in times of crisis, especially when the decisions being made can have real life or death implications.

Here in Memphis, I have watched with great interest the leadership by state and local officials, particularly our mayor and school superintendent.  I think both have done a good job keeping Memphians sufficiently informed about the COVID-19 virus and its impact on our city and school system.

I appreciate the superintendent’s weekly updates and communications to help the public understand his decision-making process.  I appreciate even more that his decisions seem driven by science and data, not by political influences.  Safety appears to be his highest priority, and rightfully so.

The leader who we have not heard from, ironically, is U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos.  Other than echoing President Trump’s desire to fully reopen schools with in-person learning, I have heard nothing from her by way of guidance and leadership.

If you want to find information about the challenges our K-12 schools, colleges, and universities are facing, do not bother going to the U.S. Department of Education website – there is little data there.  You can find a list of coronavirus resources but no dashboard for tracking cases. No weekly updates or summaries. It is like pre-pandemic business as usual. That’s disappointing, to say the least.

During times like these, federal leadership is crucial. We know that state and local leaders are making tough decisions every day regarding the direction in which to guide schools and communities.  But I would love to know how our educational systems across the nation are faring as they struggle to mitigate the pandemic’s impact and what lessons we might learn from them.

For example, I would like to see a summary of COVID-19 cases in school systems across the country and a breakdown of the demographics. I’d like to know the percentage of K-12 schools using in-person, hybrid, or virtual re-opening models. How about a report on how our colleges and universities are holding up, and their challenges and concerns?

There is so much useful information that can be shared with the American people, but the anemic efforts by Secretary Devos to keep the public informed have been disappointing.

It seems clear that for all intents and purposes, our federal government has abandoned its leadership responsibilities in helping manage this pandemic. Our institutions of learning (at all levels) are unnecessary casualties of the federal government’s decision not to fully engage.

But I am thankful our state and local leaders are stepping up to fill the void.  I think we are fortunate to have leaders in Memphis who understand the importance of keeping our community informed and making safety their highest priority when making decisions to re-open schools and our economy.

Let’s all continue to give them our full support.  Wear your mask, socially distance, wash your hands, and be responsible. We’ll get through this together!

(COVID-19 Information for City of Memphis: https://covid19.memphistn.gov/; Shelby County Schools Weekly Updates: https://www.scsk12.org/coronavirusfacts/.)

(Follow TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers on Twitter (@curtisweathers); email: [email protected])


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