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Reflecting on Racism and the Newton Public Schools - June 1, 2020

June 1, 2020

 

Dear Newton Families,

 

Over the last couple of days, I have sent two messages to NPS faculty and staff.  The first was about our budget and staffing for next year.  I reassured them that there are no plans for teacher layoffs right now and that we will be preserving as many staff positions as necessary to meet the needs we expect in the fall. 

 

The second was my reflections on the state of our country and its implications for the Newton Public School community. I have shared that message with you below.

 

I hope your family is doing as well as possible during this incredibly sad and painful time.

 

Best,

David 

 

Message to NPS Faculty and Staff - May 31, 2020

 

Dear Colleagues,

 

Given the worrisome news about layoffs coming out of Brookline on Friday, I felt compelled to send you a reassuring message regarding our plans for next year. However, there was another message that I had wanted to send (and needed to send) that is far less assuring, and that is about the current state of our country.  

 

The tragedy of George Floyd’s murder, preceded by the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and coming in the midst of COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on our Black and Brown population, has been truly devastating. The anger, fear and hopelessness among our Black students and colleagues right now is intense. My conversations with Black friends and colleagues about their fears for their Black sons this past week, while not new, are always heart wrenching and frightening. But, we continue to  have to have these conversations, and that in itself is painful.  

 

While it is hard not to be consumed by what is omnipresent on television right now, it will be easy for those of us who are white to move on with our daily lives. However, systemic injustice and racism in our various institutions and systems (including our own), will still be with us, and it is critical that we be engaged and committed after this crisis is behind us.

 

So, what do we do with the anger that so many of us feel? How do we channel our energy in constructive ways to have a real impact? As I consider these questions, it is useful to reflect on where we are as a district.

 

Our Courageous Conversations work over the past few years has been a good start. It is more important than ever that we have uncomfortable, painful and honest conversations with our students and colleagues of all races about the impact of racism in our country and our school system. Last week, I met with a large contingent of our Chinese residents who expressed great concern about the recent increase in anti-Asian sentiment both across the country and in Newton. I also listened to important conversations about COVID-19 and race that took place among Newton North student groups last week, and I had a very direct and emotional meeting with the Black Student Union at Newton South.  

 

A number of us have participated in such exchanges and they are indeed essential if we are to move forward. At the same time, these conversations will have a lasting impact only if we take specific actions to make our district a better place for our students and staff who experience racism (most often unintentionally) as they move through their day.

 

As we look to the next few years, I expect that academic excellence, educational equity, and social-emotional well-being will continue to be the focus of our systemwide goals. Because our work on race and achievement is critical to achieving each of these goals, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, we established the position of Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the 2020-2021 budget. While we are all responsible for working towards these goals, our experience tells us that it is essential to have one person who focuses and directs our work, and keeps it in the forefront of every conversation and decision.  

 

Kathy Lopes, who was just appointed to the position, captured why our engagement cannot be cyclical or periodic, which for white people, is always an option. She wrote, “In order to be successful in this work, it is critical that our sense of the reality and pervasiveness of racism is present at all times-that we don’t become desensitized or compliant.  It is then how we turn our compassion into conviction and ultimately official action.”

 

While next year will undoubtedly be complex and challenging, the urgency of making our district a better place for our students and staff who experience racism every day can’t be delayed. I look forward to working closely with Kathy and all of you as we update and implement our strategy to make our school system explicitly anti-racist while also becoming a more welcoming, equitable, and inclusive place for all.  

 

Best,

 

David