As another wintry mix hit the Northland this week, I’m sure I was not alone in feeling that winter was back. While the beauty of fresh falling snow was not lost on me, I was disappointed that winter had once again gained its hold upon us. After being teased by one of the earliest spring thaws I’ve seen and with lakes opening early, it was tough putting my winter coat and gloves back on. I felt like asking if winter would ever end.

Similarly, I’m sure this is what most of us are experiencing in terms of our "winter of COVID." In early March, we witnessed a decline in COVID-19 numbers in Minnesota and Beltrami County, only to see it rise again in April. This is disappointing for all of us. It appears as if the marathon of dealing with COVID is not yet finished.

In this long year of change and challenge for all of us, our race against the pandemic is still not over. We must continue to push ourselves, to persevere, to move forward, and to keep from dropping out. As the school year is approaching its final weeks, I am keenly aware that, as superintendent of the district, I cannot start coasting yet.

I cannot slow down or drop out of the race, and neither should any of us no matter how tired we are of COVID. We cannot become complacent or give in to that inner voice that tells us we are too tired to go on.

This has been my message to staff and students throughout the year, but especially now, as we approach the end of the school year. We must remain diligent and continue making difficult decisions. Some decisions will determine how we handle spring ceremonies such as concerts, honors and recognition programs, prom, and even graduation.

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While we all want to return to normalcy, we cannot do that yet and must continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, wash hands, and limit the number of people attending activities in our schools.

As I have done so many times during the last 13 months, I ask our community not to give up or give in to COVID fatigue. Let’s continue to work together to shape the future and to work toward keeping our schools open. I look back at the school year with an immense amount of pride at how we have been able to keep all of our elementary schools open in the in-person model all year while maintaining the hybrid model at the secondary level for most of the year.

I am grateful for the work that ISD 31 employees, students and parents have done together to keep students in school a great majority of the time. This is an amazing achievement for a school district as large as Bemidji.

However, in order to maintain this success, we must continue to be diligent in our actions and decisions. We must not let our guard down now. Instead, let’s define our own future, and let’s finish strong and end the year by defeating COVID. It is up to all of us to choose success over failure. So far this year, ISD 31 leaders have chosen to focus on success by diligently following the guidelines for keeping our schools safe. Many decisions have been difficult and unpopular, but they have kept students and school employees healthy.

Since positive change can only happen at the individual level when we choose to make the right decisions, I hope everyone will work together to make choices in the best interest of our community. This is how, within our school system, we have been able to succeed for so long at keeping our schools open.

We can either create the future or be disrupted by it. Let’s choose to shape our future by being the leaders that we need to be within our community so that we can succeed at staying healthy, keep our schools open and end the year strong. If we work together, we may be able to bring normalcy to the next school year.

Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at tim_lutz@isd31.net.