Several years ago, we recognized the need to develop a more culturally sensitive school community. I am sharing an article published in a statewide journal in 2017 about our work. It is available here. We know that there is significantly more work to do and we are accelerating our plans, but we need the full support of the greater community to realize a lasting impact.
We are committed to our continued focus on educational equity and addressing the “unspeakables” (defined in the article above), but we can and must do more. It is important to remember when issues of this magnitude arise, the lag between actions and results becomes apparent. Here are some of our current efforts to address equity concerns in our schools:
- Mission Statement - Our District Mission Statement, developed several years ago by a committee of parents, student and staff members, contains a Belief and Diversity statement that helps to guide our programs.
- Board Policy - Last year, the BOE approved one of the strongest student Educational Equity Policies in the county.
- Hiring Practices - We have a long standing commitment to hiring qualified educators of color with our participation in CJPRIDE.
- Staff Education - Over the past two years we have partnered with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium and Dr. Eddie Fergus from Temple University to provide mandatory professional development around cultural competency, racial literacy, and disproportionality. We are continuing with our multi-year professional development plan.
- Curricular Updates Include History - We are in the process of revising all curriculum K-12 to educate and reflect on our cultural diversity. Local residents and community leaders, Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck, have addressed students, Board of Education committees, and staff to help us embed local Hopewell Valley African American history into our curriculum.
- Curricular Updates Include Racial Literacy - Beginning in September 2019, history classes taken by all freshmen will include fostering conversations about race and racial literacy.
- Student Discipline - We have implemented more sensitive discipline practices and we are exploring Restorative Justice practices.
- Athletics Parent Code of Conduct and Participation Agreement - This spring we are implementing spectator expectations that must be followed by parents/guardians and their guests at all athletic events in order to promote respect and sportsmanship. The contract will be included in the athletic packet and must be signed by the player’s parents/guardian prior to participation.
- Student Groups - Our existing student diversity group will develop anti-bias language for a code of conduct. Other student groups are proactively expanding equity and cultural exposure.
- Collaborative Involvement - Over the past two years a committee of district parents, students and staff members met regularly to identify areas of growth in equity and cultural competency. The work of the committee culminated with the development of a framework that will guide our work in the coming years. Additional groups in the district and community have formed to continue these important conversations.
As a District, we are committed to accelerating our equity efforts. This includes speeding up a number of planned curricular changes, developing a more inclusive school climate, and implementing a process that allows students to report issues to adults who have the power to immediately address them.
This recent incident was hurtful to our school community, but especially so for our students of color. When I spoke to the victim and his parents, we agreed that we can use this experience as an opportunity to raise awareness and proactively respond to an issue that has existed in our community since its inception.
As a district we will do our part, but we can only achieve lasting, impactful change with a greater community commitment. Toward this end, we are working with community leaders representing diverse facets of Hopewell Valley, experts in the field of cultural competency, and our municipal leaders to host a community conversation that is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, February 16, 2019. More details will follow. I hope this step will help to heal our community and will lead to action that will prevent similar occurrences in the future.
I conclude with an excerpt from the article referenced above, “We know as we continue our work that we will stumble and make mistakes, but our motives are sincere. Ultimately, we want our school community to engage in collaboration, critical discovery and exploration.”
Thomas A. Smith, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools