November 16-20, 2015, marks another American Education Week, an opportunity to celebrate and thank people who work and volunteer in American public schools. As American students headed back to school this fall, over 50 million were enrolled at public elementary and secondary schools, and those schools employ about 3.1 million teachers. At the completion of the 2015-16 school year, 3.3 million students are expected to graduate (U.S. Department of Education statistics). At the local level Indianola CSD had certified enrollment of 3,471 students this fall, and this district employs 258 certified and 253 non-certified staff members. Iowa leads the nation in graduation rate at almost 90%, and Indianola’s graduation rate was 98% last year.

While many types of data are useful and important—student achievement data, student demographic data, school finance data, staffing levels, and many other measures—American Education Week is a time to set aside the data and focus on the people. I grew up in a family of educators, and I saw how hard the educators in my family worked and how much they cared about their students. I have been a coach for my whole adult life, and I know the hours and sweat that go into a sports season. The same is definitely true for the fine arts world and other clubs and sponsorships. I was an English teacher for many years, and I hope that when a student feels challenged by an essay or research project, he/she understands the instructor will be reading 150 of that assignment, probably multiple drafts of it. I had my bus license for over 20 years, driving many activities and subbing on bus routes. If you want a challenging, rewarding, and critically important education job, consider getting your bus license.

Education associates, custodians, food service workers, school health personnel, guidance counselors, and substitutes of many varieties often work behind the scenes; but some of the finest, most caring people I have known are in those roles and in the trenches for kids every single day.

The last 15 years I have been a school administrator although I haven’t completely let go of some of those other education roles along the way. The most important administrative role is to serve students and staff well and ensure that we have the best possible school system. School administration is challenging and complex work, and I appreciate those who undertake it this American Education Week, too.

I am a big believer in the power of public education to prepare students for the future and to change lives. These things do not happen by magic. They are the result of caring, hard-working people who are often called to sacrifice as they collaborate to try to serve students well. I know that there is some significant adult in each child’s school life. It could very well be a classroom teacher. Maybe it’s a bus driver, custodian, food service worker, associate, nurse, secretary, guidance counselor, librarian, coach, or school administrator. Maybe it is all of the above. American Education Week gives you a special occasion to express appreciation and say, “Thank you.” I don’t think any of us has probably ever complained about receiving too much appreciation for what we do, and appreciation is like oxygen.

Take just a minute sometime this week to express appreciation to a school employee, school board member, booster member, PTO member, or other school volunteer. Encourage your children to do the same. School employees, we can celebrate American Education Week by letting students, the reason we have a purpose and a job, know we appreciate them, too. Indianola has some of the greatest students and staff anywhere! Let’s celebrate that, this week and beyond.