Letter from Superintendent addresses recent events

Letter from the Superintendent to address recent events
Posted on 06/03/2020

Time and events have moved quickly since my letter to you on Monday. Processing all that is occurring and making sense of what is right and productive and what is not is tough enough for us as adults, and I continue to lose sleep over how this is impacting our children. Racism, discrimination, and hate have no place in schools.

We cannot fool ourselves, though. We know it exists.

Sometimes it is open and public, or more often, it happens under the surface in indirect and sometimes in implicit ways. None of these examples are right.

We declare that assertively and unapologetically at West Irondequoit.

What does this mean about our school's stance on law enforcement? We know that people make racist remarks and perform hateful acts and that does not reflect many of the heroes who serve to protect us every day. Protests and civil disobedience call attention to wrongful acts and marginalized communities, and violence and looting has no place in this world. Criminal acts like this detract from the core message and task at hand. These types of actions put more lives at risk and distract us from the actual mission of prompting sustainable change. And that is our responsibility as local communities and community leaders. What actions must happen in West Irondequoit to change mindsets, expectations, protections and norms to eradicate racism and discrimination?

Our District leaders just finished reading Ibram X. Kendi's book, How to Be an Antiracist. Two fundamental ideas from this book are:

  • A racist is someone who is supporting a racist policy through their action or inaction.
  • Antiracism is a path, not a destination; it requires self-awareness, self-criticism and regular self-examination.

As leaders in our community and to foster a safe place for ALL students to learn and grow, the West Irondequoit Central School District will take the following steps to be antiracist agents of change. Change is a journey, but every journey happens step by step. Here's a list of the steps that are in the works:

  1. Student Community Circles (beginning in June): Voluntary opportunities for students to process recent events and begin to heal, listen, and be heard. Experienced facilitators from the Partners in Restorative Initiatives will lead these events partnered with trained District staff to support the process.
  2. Student/Family/Community Book Study: A summer experience will be offered to read the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Students will engage in remote dialogues and activities to discuss comments and ideas related to the reading. We are in conversations to make this a collaborative partnership with another local school district.
  3. Staff and Board of Education Book Study: Over the summer and fall, the Board of Education, administrative team, and staff will engage in a similar book study of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.
  4. Training: The administrative team, and security will engage in continued professional development on racism and discrimination to build on past learning. The objectives will include understanding the issue, recognizing racism and bigotry, and addressing them. Additionally, our staff will remain engaged in additional professional development related to these objectives.

These represent a few of the ideas under construction. We will also continue our efforts to build on the ongoing work of our Mosaic Club and the Roc2Change. Both represent examples of the great work already happening to develop an antiracist and inclusive culture at West Irondequoit and the greater Rochester community. Remember too, that our staff stand ready to support our students as needed and will continue to do so, in their ongoing interactions. If you need specific supports, have questions or need resources, please contact your school counselor, psychologist, social worker or building administrator.

Last, I leave you with this. Racist and bigoted acts are unacceptable in our schools. Incidents of discrimination, hate, and racism may occur, and when they do, we will thoroughly and impartially investigate them with appropriate consequences assigned. We will do this with a restorative eye on opportunities to drive reflection, learning, and hopefully, healing.

Together, we will continue to welcome, nurture, and inspire ALL students.

Dr. Aaron R. Johnson
Superintendent of Schools