Here is a concrete opportunity to step up and speak out. First some background:
Rochester is at or near the top of numerous national statistical lists defining racial inequity. Perhaps no local institution embodies these tragic failures more than the Rochester City School District.
New York State stepped in two years ago, appointing a Distinguished Educator to analyze and suggest solutions. With laser focus, Dr. Jaime Aquino identified a virus that operated at the heart of all other issues:
“Systematic and institutionalized racism as well as individual racial and social conditioning are concrete barriers to respectful relationships. The foundation of creating equity within the District must therefore begin with addressing racism.”
His report cites specific evidence of this virus at another half-dozen points.
In the Fall of 2017 former Superintendent Barbara Deanne-Williams formed a team to dismantle racial inequity: The Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) Team. I attended meetings initially as an observer, and eventually as a member. This Team is composed of highly knowledgeable, passionate educators, social workers who know the system, and concerned parents, grandparents and graduates, acting as advocates for the children served by this District – a combination of expertise, experience and reality. The meetings, which included the superintendent and key administrators, were spirited, at times contentious, and eventually productive.
The Board of Education recognized the unique composition and wisdom of the REAL Team last year by designating it to have on-going supervision of the Plan’s implementation.
As the current Superintendent Terry Dade assumed his position (July 2019), the REAL Team Report with recommendations was nearly complete.
Here, the momentum is interrupted for several reasons:
- The Team and Superintendent Dade struggled to find agreement on several points, as much about power and communication style as about substance. Still, by November 25 last year, a virtually completed Plan had been crafted.
- Then in January this year a $40 million dollar budget shortfall was revealed, the result of woefully inadequate oversight by both the former administration and the School Board. This crisis took precedence over any other focus, including the REAL Team’s recommendations.
- Meanwhile, Superintendent Dade has taken unilateral steps to change some of the Report’s content, and has essentially halted communication with the REAL Team.
- And now, understandably, COVOD-19 has grabbed the attention of the Administration.
Thus, the process has stalled. The concern, of course, is that once COVID-19 has wreaked its havoc, and once the finances of the District have been stabilized, the focus on racial equity will be lost. There are factors baked into the system and baked into the people involved that would virtually assure this. I include myself and I include you in that last statement.
In my opinion, the fruit of the REAL Team’s efforts yielded a Plan that had teeth and had buy-in from the staff at that time. I also believe that losing the passionate and wisdom-rich volunteer members of the Team (a very real possibility) can only lead to a weakened Plan, tepid commitment, and ultimate failure. It’s understandable that attention is shifted for now, but the Team is left hanging with no communication, no direction, and no closure (if that’s what’s in store).
Why should we (white subscribers) care?
That’s a serious question. And here’s a serious answer:
The virus Dr. Aquino identified infects us as well. It manifests in us as denial, as a crusted heart, as a tainted spirit, which enable us to allow a situation to exist mere miles from us that we simply would never tolerate in our own communities if it were crippling our own children. This virus manifests in our denial of the invisible but intimate connection that ties our destiny to the destinies of the brothers and sisters from whom we’ve physically separated. This virus has metastasized to the suburban corridors, though for the most part it has not been diagnosed as such. We appear asymptomatic, at least in our own hooded perception.
The miles of social distancing we’ve constructed do not protect us from the costs of this virus. In the City, the costs are blatant, immediate, tragic, deadly. But systems have a way of coalescing neighbors. Human systems included, they lean toward enmeshment, toward integration, despite our fear-based attempts at tribal segregation. Thus virus spreads, immunity breaks down, and barriers are penetrated.
So if justice were not enough of a motivator for us, if guilt or compassion don’t move us, then let the sober recognition of self-interest drive action for now. And lest this be just another exercise in whiteness-centered navel-gazing:
Here are actions you can take to influence this immediate situation:
Contact Superintendent Dade and the Members of the RCSD Board of Education members to register, in your own words, the critical importance of correcting racial inequity in this District.
- Urge the Superintendent to reestablish communication with the REAL Team, and to set a time to resume discussion of the Plan as it existed on November 25, 2019.
- Urge the Superintendent and Board to follow the Board’s 2019 directive that the existing Team have oversight of the Plan and its implementation.
- Urge them not to allow this effort to become just another feeble, abandoned attempt to eradicate the virus of racial inequity.
Superintendent Terry Dade
Rochester City School District
130 W. Broad St.
Rochester NY 14614
Members of the RCSD Board of Education:
See names and contact information here.
Addendum: Summary of some key points in the Plan draft (provided by Howard Eagle on request):
- anti-racist professional education and development for all
- alignment of all RCSD initiatives that are designed to focus on individual, institutional, and/or structural racism
- serious intensification of efforts to recruit and retain more race and class conscious educators of color
- significantly increase local efforts to help produce more educators of color, e.g.,”growing/retaining our own”
- improve the Career In Teaching program, to the extent that it becomes significantly more racially equitable regarding mentors and lead-teachers
As always, comments welcomed below.