|Reflections concerning the racism in our society. We all own this.|
Over the past several days, one cannot help reflecting on and examining how each of us has a role in the solution, to promote change in a world where hate seems recurring. A world where, despite the efforts and words of many, racism still exists, and where too many innocent people are victims of hate.
Like many, I am deeply concerned these senseless acts of violence continue, and I am mad the racism I saw as a child growing up in Chicago still exists, anywhere in this world. It is wrong, it is sad, and we all need to do what we can to be part of the solution.
The Eanes schools do not have a significant number of students of color, particularly black students. Why? Because our schools are a reflection of the population of our community. Any child who resides in our community is entitled to attend our schools. The fact is, our community is not as diverse as most of the nation.
For years, we have heard about the “Westlake bubble,” meaning an area that is not reflective of the diversity – racially or economically – of the region, state or nation. We are a demographic with many privileges and with many resources. The school district is a mirror of our community. While there can be bad elements in any community, there are also good – especially in ours. The schools in Eanes ISD are privileged as well. The education our community supports, the programs and resources we provide, are significantly different than most public schools.
As we entered this world of COVID-19, it has been clear those school districts with resources can provide technology for all students with the benefit of Internet access in the vast majority of homes. As a result, we are able to navigate a remote learning environment better than those with less. Despite its definition, equity among school districts is not fair. Hopefully one day, as a country, we will make the investment so all children, everywhere, will have the resources that exist in this community and in the Eanes school district. As we grapple with the injustices in this world, we need to remember that without education, there will be no meaningful change.
The staff working in our schools, from the custodian to the principal, care about students. They care about each other, regardless of race or religion. Over the years, countless students and parents have shared endless stories about teachers, coaches and staff who have changed the lives of individual children. We need to acknowledge the good, while – when necessary – dealing with the bad. Is it possible there are staff or students in our schools who are racially insensitive? Sadly, yes. Regrettably, this can be true in any school, community or organization of any size.
Eanes ISD accepts all students who reside in our boundaries as well as many transfer students who do not. In the hiring of staff, we do screen our employees and we conduct various background checks; however, like all organizations, we cannot look into the soul of an individual. If on the rare occasion, a staff member expresses hate or racism in our schools, it is unacceptable and we take appropriate action. If a student expresses hate or racism in our schools, we take swift action and provide counseling for the offended and the offender. Let us not forget, there is much good in this community. There are many wonderful parents, children and employees of our Eanes community whose hearts are not hateful, who care about others, regardless of race, and who work tirelessly to make this a better world. Our school district is a mirror of our community.
We are proactive in teaching that hate is not good for society or for the heart of any individual. Below are some examples - this is not a complete list, by any means. We agree more can be done; we are open to the suggestions our community is voicing.
- At the end of the 2018 school year, Westlake High School staff listened to the voices of students of color share their honest experiences on campus. The message was clear: teachers and staff must get involved when they see acts of insensitivity and hate.
- Three years ago, Eanes ISD formed a community forum comprised of staff, community members, clergy and board members. Two initiatives were then launched: one to address the need to focus more on student and staff wellness, and the other to focus on the five SEL competencies, especially around social awareness or diversity. Last year, the district formed a Culturally Responsive Classrooms Committee to focus on professional development for staff. This group was in the middle of planning professional development in August to promote culturally responsive classrooms when COVID-19 temporarily interrupted planning. We are looking at effective professional development in this area that might be done in a virtual environment with staff in the Fall.
- We have ended culturally insensitive “traditions” that were not right or sensitive to the well-being of our students of color.
- We have made efforts to increase the diversity of our staff, which, as a whole, is already more diverse than the population of our community.
- Our efforts in the social-emotional domain focus on how we should treat and care for one another. These efforts are real and must continue.
We have always "checked" ourselves in multiple areas. Internally we audit our curriculum and benchmark ourselves with other school districts. Since I have been in the district, we have conducted independent audits of our hiring practices, our financial practices and most recently, of our special education services. We have also formed multiple community advisory groups to help guide in tackling complex issues. We have never shied away from examining our practices and are willing to do so in the area of social justice as well. As to the many recent additional suggestions we are receiving from the community, we are open to examining all of these.
Can we improve? Of course. We have a growth mindset in all areas. We constantly work to get better in everything we do. This is why Eanes ISD is consistently rated as one of the best school districts in the nation. We continually examine and revise our curriculum, and in light of the racism that is clearly evident in our society, we need to examine how we can improve in this realm.
That said, it is incorrect to believe we are new to this effort. Our staff, those whose vocation is to teach in public schools, do not come to this profession to spread hate. They do not become teachers for financial gain. It is my experience those who become teachers truly want to educate students and help them reach their potential, both in academics and in the development of character. What is apparent is, as a school district, we have not done a good enough job sharing with our community the extent to which we educate, care and correct.
I know some feel the kindness campaign is not enough. I agree. But it is and was important. We need to change people ... we need to change kids .... we need to change hearts. I am in the same place as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama in believing true change comes from changing people ... in changing their hearts. Many have listened to the Podcasts included in many of my messages .... they have helped some grow. And education can play a critical role. I do not believe the staff in our buildings are racist .... could there be some, of course. And if they are exhibiting racist behavior in our buildings, we need to take action. We have good people in Eanes ISD throughout our organization and community.
What happened to George Floyd was cruel and unacceptable. That is a fact. The only way to transform a nation is to transform each community – each person – one at a time. Schools are educational centers and Eanes ISD is not new to the game of educating children. We are not new to teaching equity, tolerance, empathy or kindness. Our staff does this on a daily basis. Our teachers, staff, custodians, bus drivers and administrators are good people. As stated earlier, if in the course of performing duties a staff member exhibits hatred or racism, we take action.
We welcome continued dialogue with our community. Our community and our schools share many points of pride, but we can always be better together. We need to share a collective responsibility in finding a solution for our nation to really change and become a place where what occurred in Minneapolis will never occur again.
Dr. Tom Leonard
Superintendent of Schools