Over the past three months, our school system, our local community, and our nation have experienced periods of great uncertainty and tremendous stress. We have been severely impacted by a deadly pandemic that has claimed more than one hundred thousand lives, resulted in the early closure of our nation’s schools, and created havoc with our local, national, and worldwide economy. It has been challenging to manage from every aspect of our lives, both personal and professional.
Unfortunately, just as we were learning to navigate the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, yet another, more sinister crisis has caused added stress and fear for our students, employees, community, and nation. New names have appeared in the media — George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and most recently, Rayshard Brooks — along with shocking video footage and news reports detailing the circumstances leading to their deaths. I am stunned and saddened by these horrible developments, and as the superintendent of a diverse school district, my heart aches for the children in our community who have witnessed these frightening events unfold. While I am angry, shocked, disturbed and disheartened by these recent cases, I cannot possibly fathom or completely understand how this affects our African American students, staff and community. We are at a place in our nation’s history where change is required.
The Newton County School System team and members of our Board of Education have worked hard to provide equitable and inclusive learning and work environments and have been planning and implementing cultural sensitivity and responsiveness workshops that have led to conversations about bias and our individual and collective response to bias. We have partnered with the Anti-Defamation League to implement the No Place for Hate program in all schools. In our first year of implementation, we achieved our goal that 100% of our schools would be named No Place for Hate schools. As such, in 2019, the Newton County School System was one of only two school systems in the Anti-Defamation League’s Southeastern Region to achieve the district-wide No Place for Hate designation; I am happy to report that we achieved this designation again this year!
These programs alone will not eradicate racism, bias and discrimination. In order to do that, we must come together to speak out and unabashedly address inequity whenever and wherever it exists. The school system plays an important role in this discussion, but we cannot do it alone. Crucial discussions must be held at home, too. Parents, I ask you to please talk to your children about what they are witnessing via television and social media. If your children are too young to discuss racism, bias, and/or discrimination, start with a conversation about treating others with kindness and respect. Members of our community and our faith-based organizations can help by teaching and modeling kindness and respect as we work together to help the children in our community grow up to be compassionate, empathetic, and caring individuals. Hatred is a learned behavior; therefore, with our support and example, we can teach our community’s children that there is a better way. Our future depends on the work we are doing now in our homes, schools, churches and communities.
Undoubtedly, these have been extraordinary times. I am proud of the work our school system team has done over the past few months to combat the effects of these two very different national crises. I want to assure you that my top priority remains the safety, health, and well-being of our students and staff. While we are working fervently to provide a plan of action for the safe return of students to school, I recognize it has never been more critical to continue our course of action to ensure inclusive and equitable learning and work environments. Our students, staff, and families deserve a safe school system where everyone is valued and supported.