I start every school year with great enthusiasm and optimism. But I feel more determined this year than ever before, and I know I’m not alone.
That’s because my multiple identities as a mother and wife, teacher, leader and white aspiring ally are fueling me with the courage I need to help change the MMSD experience for our youth, staff, and families of color. And by change, I mean change now.
In MMSD, we have been after long-term, sustainable improvement as opposed to just one year spikes in test scores. We have been after great teaching that is culturally responsive. And we have been after creating the foundation that is necessary for transformational change now and in the future.
We believe it is time (and I know it has always been time) for better, vastly better results for our most marginalized youth—especially African American youth. Our results must reflect their inherent capability, their strengths and their potential. By focusing on the success of African American children, we serve our entire community better.
In the year ahead, we’ll be solidifying the foundation we have built while driving for positive results. With stronger shared leadership, more collaborative teacher teams, more individualized professional learning and coaching for teachers, stronger parent partnership, and a clear instructional focus, we believe we are poised to help our teachers build the relationships necessary to challenge students academically and ensure all students graduate ready for college, career and community.
This is what we commit to you in the upcoming year:
#1 We will amplify what we know is working.
We have schools that are already making the transformational change we are after. Schools like Lindbergh, Glendale, Sennett, and Memorial are showing us the way. We will make sure to better understand what is working, insist that those things happen with more consistency across schools, stop doing what isn’t working, and take calculated risks to solve problems when the answers are not clear.
Not surprising, schools making sustainable progress have some common elements. One key element is that they have strong leaders for equity and racial justice at the helm. And by leaders, I mean principals, staff and teachers leading together as a team. These leaders are committed to doing their own “inside-out” work to better understand themselves and the lens through which they see the world. They are committed to recognizing, naming and disrupting racism, aggression, and inequities no matter how small. And they understand that, for educators, this work is life-long.
#2 We will raise up the voices of people of color.
We believe, as a school district, it is our obligation to make sure that everyone is heard, is cared for, is recognized, and has influence. We believe that as an institution that serves a community, we must bring everyone into the circle of care, concern, and belonging if our youth and families are to thrive.
Specifically, we’ll be working with our African American Student Strategic Council and our Teachers of Color Advisory group to make sure that we are making decisions informed and driven by their experiences. That includes making sure our teachers of color are not just growing in number but are positioned to have influence in decision-making, have clear paths for development and promotion, and are valued for their competence.
#3 We will focus on the classroom.
The classroom as a safe and supportive community of learners will be our primary focus this year and for the foreseeable future. We know the achievement gap exists because of our country’s history of racism. But what keeps these educational disparities in place (no matter what the measure) is the fact that we are not yet creating the conditions necessary for our youth to become independent learners.
We need to nurture, in every child at every age, the cognitive skills and habits of mind to engage in the productive struggle that leads to deep learning, and that starts with building authentic trusting relationships with young people. We are better positioned now, more than ever, for our teachers to be the allies our students and parents of color need them to be.
My personal commitment
This year, I officially become an MMSD parent as my own son starts kindergarten. I just received my first email from his teacher, as did all of the parents, which made my heart ache a little. It was so sweet. My personal commitment is to engage every teacher like I would my child’s teacher. To respect every parent like I would want to be respected as a parent. And to care for every child like I would care for my own.
Here’s to a great school year!