Dear South Orange Maplewood School District,
Many thanks to the hundreds of concerned students, parents, teachers, administrators and community members who joined us on Wednesday night for a thoughtful and productive dialogue about recent events in our district, and how we can all work together to build the inclusive schools and community which we hope to see.
I began the evening by apologizing, on behalf of the District, for the real pain and concern for the emotional and physical safety of children that many in our community have experienced in recent weeks, and acknowledged our responsibility to ensure our schools are safe, inclusive learning environments for all of our students and staff. The text of my opening remarks is attached.
We then had small group discussions, or “table talks,” so participants could share their thoughts about recent events within the district, and then brainstorm together about how we can better respond, prevent, and partner in the future. We appreciated the honesty with which participants shared pain, disappointment, and constructive criticism, as well as hopes and ideas for the future.
During the reports from each table, we heard some common themes of things we need to work on:
- Curriculum which is culturally responsive, and which fairly covers the histories of all groups.
- Ongoing, mandatory cultural competency professional development and staff support
- Timely, transparent communications
- Truly integrating our schools, and collaboration between schools
- Partnering – with parents and families, with students, and with the larger community
We then heard from 4 panelists:
- Dr. Khalil Muhammad spoke as both a SOMSD parent and an historian on the challenge of teaching our children about the full breadth and depth of American and World history – not shying away from the ugliest moments, because if we do not know our true history, we are doomed to repeat it.
- Dr. Khyati Joshi provided an overview of the anti-bias work which she has been doing with SOMSD faculty over the past three years, starting with the full administrative team and continuing with classroom teachers in every school.
- CHS Student Julie Destine shared a student’s perspective on the ways that students voices are and need to be part of this community wide dialogue
- Parent Patricia Canning shared her hope that this is our moment to take major steps forward, together, in the journey to create the Beloved Community envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King.
There are no shortcuts here. This is messy work.
For the District’s part – led by our Board of Education and our Administrative Team, Faculty and Staff – our next steps include:
- Daily work to restore your confidence that our students are safe.
- Aggressively revising our curriculum.
- Increasing Cultural Competency training for staff (already included in the 2017-2018 budget).
- Developing a District protocol for responding to bias incidents, including a communications plan for who will be informed of what, by when.
- Revising our Code of Conduct to more specifically address “hate” and “bias” related infractions.
- Presenting a building utilization and redistricting plan for real integration that secures better spaces for learning for all of our students.
- Sustaining our Community Leaders meetings, and developing appropriate working groups.
Can we summon the faith to wrestle hope from this moment? Can we use this moment as inspiration and leverage to make real change?
We have the spotlight on us – both on our schools and on South Orange and Maplewood as a community – can we see this as an opportunity to show a good example to the world?
Are we, perhaps, on the edge of a breakthrough that will have a lasting, broad impact?
This is our time, our legacy. What will we do, together, with this moment?
I look forward to continuing this dialogue with you at our Town Hall meeting on May 3, 2017, or any time on Let’s Talk!
Sincerely,John J. Ramos, Sr., Ed.D.