This week, we celebrate Teacher and School Staff Appreciation Week, and we are encouraging everyone to show gratitude for those whose strength and dedication to their students has shown brightly during these challenging times.

Parents, students and educators are facing obstacles unlike any we have ever faced. We had to switch to remote learning overnight, and we know the frustrations and struggles that have resulted. And, our children miss their friends and are working through the difficult emotional toll of this pandemic.

But, with our teachers leading the way, our communities have persevered. Now, let’s all celebrate the resilience of all our educators, both the professionals and the parents helping with remote learning. Find your own unique way to say thank you — whether that’s a car parade in your neighborhood, a gift card or simply sending a note of gratitude.

North Carolina public schools are encouraging everyone to shine lights as a symbol of appreciation. Maybe a flashlight on your porch. Or, like me, maybe some Christmas lights in your yard. We hope you join us and share with us your creativity to celebrate the shining lights in North Carolina. You can share photos on social media with #NCed and #NCLighthouseLeaders.

Also, we want parents, students, and educators to know that we recognize the current situation is not sustainable. This will not be the new normal.

We have launched the Schools Reopening Task Force, comprised of state and local leaders, educators, parents and students to move us from reactive to proactive and pragmatic as we work to reopen our schools in the fall. We will also be seeking your feedback.

A few weeks ago, I began discussions with other state education chiefs in order to share best practices and closely follow steps taken in other countries where schools are already reopening. The challenges ahead are daunting. We must develop plans to socially distance in school facilities, meet students at their abilities when they return in the fall and help them catch up, and improve remote learning so it is more pragmatic for teachers, students, and parents.

We will meet these challenges and overcome the obstacles. Educators, students and parents expect and deserve such from their leaders.

North Carolina is where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great! Working together, I firmly believe we will come out of this crisis stronger.

Thank you for your strength and resilience during these difficult times.

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By Mark Johnson, the elected superintendent of North Carolina’s public schools. After teaching school in Charlotte and serving on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board, he now lives in Raleigh with his wife and their daughter, who is a first-grader in public school.

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