I write this commentary as the proud superintendent of Sandwich Public Schools. I first came to Sandwich in July 2016. As I began my tenure here in this beautiful community I wanted to get to know the residents. So I began holding open office hours monthly at the town library. These hours provided me a fantastic opportunity to get to know parents and anyone else who would stop in to chat.
There was one set of parents who, very eloquently, spoke of some of the racial bias that their children had encountered while students in Sandwich. Obviously, as a new superintendent that is not what I wanted to hear. But it began a conversation with our administrative team because this was unacceptable to me. Our assistant superintendent began a deeper dive into our curriculum and began work to provide our students with a broader range of diverse perspectives. We knew that in order to change the hearts and minds of people this wasn’t going to be a “one and done” type of presentation or professional development. We realized that we would be engaging in significant systemic work.
Between 2016 and now, all of our schools have been working to become more culturally responsive, considering curriculum, culture, and policies. Curriculum has been reviewed and modified; long-term practices that did not reflect respect for all cultures were changed or eliminated; and student handbooks have been reviewed and revised. Systems have been put in place to assure literature that reflects the experiences of the global majority in a town where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) residents are few and far between. The work has been happening and it has been thoughtful and meaningful. We are proud of the growing cultural proficiency in the district, even as we know we have far to go.
Reports of racism, discrimination, and injustice have continued to grow in our country. The latest is the killing of George Floyd. This horrified the country and reminded us why this work in our schools is so important. In addition, we have seen just how far we have to go to achieve true equality, as BIPOC have been impacted disproportionately by the current pandemic. As a result of these events, we are at a crossroads in our district. We know that cultural and social change takes years, yet we do not have years to address the injustices that we see around us daily. We must do more than continue to include more perspectives in the curriculum: we must actively teach students and faculty to recognize racial bias and take action against racism. This benefits ALL members of our school community.
We must make it clear that we will not tolerate any child or other member of our school community experiencing any form of discrimination or racism. I am making a promise to the community that as superintendent of the Sandwich Public Schools that I will do everything in my power to prevent any students from being marginalized and to educate our students to be not only non-racist, but anti-racist.
One way to do this is to train educators. Our staff participated in many professional learning opportunities this summer:
A group of 20 from across the district spent each Tuesday evening in July learning from nationally recognize
d researchers and educators in a program called “Becoming Anti-racist: A Learning Series for White ‘Liberal’ Teachers.”
Another group is participating in “Becoming Anti-racist: A Learning Series for White ‘Liberal’ Teachers, Part II” in August.
Another group is about to begin a course: “How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom, Gr 7-12.”
Many educators have been participating in professional development offered by PBS, Heinemann, Scholastic, Stenhouse Publishing. Interest is high and staff members feel a sense of urgency.
Curriculum leaders have been taking advantage of a variety of professional learning opportunities that address concerns about equity during remote and hybrid instruction.
Our STEM/HS History/Social Studies and English departments have begun a comprehensive curriculum audit, using a research-based nationally recognized tool. The department chairs will report out on their progress and their timeline at the admin retreat on Thursday, August 13.
The administrative team is doing our book study this year with “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” by Robin DiAngelo as an entry point for our fairly homogeneous team to start learning about race. We meet to discuss weekly and the conversations have been rich.
An important support for the Sandwich Public Schools in making us an anti-racist school community is our enrollment in the Culturally Responsive Practices Leadership Academy for 2020-2021. In acknowledgement of the complexity of this work, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education offered an opportunity for districts to be supported and we are thrilled to be accepted. From the description of the academy:
The following are goals that will be discussed with the School Committee as part of my yearly goal setting:
Continue to assess the curriculum experiences of pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students by looking at our literature selections and course options for students and increasing offerings that reflect diverse perspectives;
Strengthen diversity/inclusion training for all faculty and staff. We will continue to promote diversity training options for staff, specifically addressing unconscious bias;
Continue the review and revision of student handbooks at all schools: review student handbook, addressing areas such as inclusion, diversity, hate speech and including consequences for violations;
Conduct review of our Freshman Seminar offering. The curriculum will be analyzed and opportunities will be found for education and discussion about recognizing and countering racism and bias with the Senior Mentor Program. These opportunities will also occur in the sophomore/7th grade mentoring program.
We know that change takes years. But we must be very clear that we do not have years. This needs to be addressed immediately. We understand that we are also in the middle of a health pandemic and some people might suggest that this is not the time or place to address systemic racism. As Martin Luther King Jr.once said, “The time is always right to do what’s right.” Now that we know better, we must do better. Our students and school community deserve it.