Sunday, January 28, 2018

On Being Uncomfortable

This past week, Montpelier High School announced that it would fly a Black Lives Matter flag on campus for the month of February. The action comes from a unanimous affirmative vote from our school board and we have received a substantial amount of support through phone calls, e-mail, blog posts, and social media messages. As expected though, we have also been contacted by a number of people who disagree with this decision, and some have expressed that through hate and threats to me personally.

Prior to this week, I had never received a message of hate, my privilege saw to this. I am a white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, Judeo-Christian man. I have a great deal of systemic power, given to me for reasons I have not earned, nor deserved. And yet, this week I was grappling with the reality of hate messages because of how I am choosing to support this student-led initiative. It was, and is, quite uncomfortable. 

In a conversation with My Wife about this, I came to a stark realization. This hate is only temporary for me. When this is behind us and we move on to continuing the work of equity, proficiency, and personalization in Montpelier Public Schools in other ways, hate will not be directed at me.

For our Black students, this is the hate they deal with regularly. They face hate and racism for reasons they have not earned, nor deserved. Our Racial Justice Alliance told us of awful things that other students say about them, that go unaddressed, that are a part of their educational experience in Montpelier Public Schools.

I am proud to be uncomfortable to stand with our Black students. I am proud to be uncomfortable to build on the Vermont legacy of being at the forefront of civil rights. I am proud to be uncomfortable so that we can have the conversations about being a more inclusive community.

Monday, January 22, 2018

On Healing

It was a tremendously difficult week in Montpelier Public Schools. A life was lost on the campus of Montpelier High School. Nate Giffin was a student in our school system and his mother and father are established members of the Montpelier and greater Vermont community. Many in our school and local community were touched personally by this tragedy.

It is natural to have questions about this sad situation and to try to make sense of this. During this process, I urge everyone to remember that before we can truly make any judgements, we must walk in the shoes of those we are judging. We will never know what caused this situation to enfold the way that it did. In addition, we will never know exactly what transpired that caused it to end so abruptly.

What we do know is that there were real human beings that were involved from the start. Nate was a student of Montpelier Public Schools, doing his best to be in the world. The employees and members of the Vermont State Employees Credit Union were just going about their day on a Tuesday morning.  Our School Resource Office Matt Knisley was leaving Montpelier High School, heading out to meet with a student. The students, faculty and staff of MHS were having a typical day, following a three- day weekend. The tremendous number of law enforcement officials who descended upon our community were in the various parts of our state when all our paths came together.

Real human beings trying to make sense of a situation that makes very little sense. Real human beings trying to move forward, while struggling to answer the question "Why?" Real human beings who have many, many questions that may never be answered.

Despite the lack of answers, the reality remains that on Tuesday, January 16, 2018, a family lost a son, a school was locked down, and a community was stunned by the second violent loss of life in as many years. It is natural to point fingers and try to assign blame; we must resist that urge. What lessons can we learn from this? How can we recommit our educational community to building, cultivating, and maintaining relationships as the foundation of the work we do?

Push beyond the instinct to blame. Instead, find the courage to begin to heal.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Shed A Little Light

This past weekend in Montpelier, the sun rose at 7:22 AM and set at 4:37 PM, a total of nine hours and fifteen minutes of sunlight and while it pales in comparison to what we see in the middle of June (and the rest of our warmer months) it is better than how little we saw in December.  Even if it is only marginally better, even if only by minutes, we are gaining more and more sunlight every day. 

One of my favorite singers, James Taylor, wrote and performed a song called "Shed A Little Light" in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Click here to listen to it.  One of the lines speaks to me very clearly, especially in the world of education, in 2018:

That we are bound together, in our desire to see the world become, 
A place in which our children can grow free and strong.

Now, perhaps more than ever, in a world that seems to be growing more and more polarized everyday, it is critical that we recognize when we are all pulling in the same direction.  By doing that, we can ensure that we honor the work that everyone is doing on behalf of all our children, and for us in Montpelier Public Schools a centerpiece to that work this year is equity.  

In the coming weeks, we will continue to focus our work with the Racial Justice Alliance, a student led organization at Montpelier High School, to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and promote more equity in 2018.  Our commitment to each and every student in Montpelier Public Schools is that they feel safe and included when they walk through our doors each and every morning.  

As the days get longer, we are committing to shed more light in Montpelier Public Schools.  We will be working to honor each and every student, regardless of skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.  And while we cannot eradicate all inequity in our world, we will take a stand in MPS and say not here!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

It Really Does Take a Village

This past week, there was an apartment fire in Montpelier.  It displaced eight families, two of them with direct connections to Montpelier Public Schools: one of our employees and one of our families was living in that building. 

At 1:40 PM, I received an e-mail from the City Manager, letting me know there was a structure fire in town.  Based on the address, we were able to determine whom was impacted by this fire, thanks to some quick work by our Data Manager, Chris Ilstrup.  Before long, I had assigned the family "homeless" status, which makes several resources available immediately.  We were able to speak directly with the impacted employee, who did not have a lot of information at that point. 

Before the end of the day, we were able to be in touch with the counselor of the family impacted by the fire.  Through that relationship, we established a means of communication to connect with the family.  Another staff member in MPS would be the main point of communication to our affected employee, ensuring we would not overwhelm anyone by reaching out. 

In my experience, those of us who are aware of situations like this immediately feel the need to "do something," and that can put pressure on those who have already been through so much.  While the urge to do something is palpable from our perspective, often it is best to wait to see what the real need is.  These situations are not about us, and our need to help and do; it is about those who may have lost everything. 

I am proud of the MPS response.  It was patient and allowed (and is allowing) those impacted by this fire to let us know what they need.  We have placed envelopes in each building to collect donations for both the family and the employee.  Friends of the family have started a GoFundMe page and while several asked to start one for the impacted employee, he kindly and respectfully declined.  We are listening to his wishes.  It is not about us. 

My sincere thanks to Bill Fraser, the City Manager of Montpelier, for sending that e-mail on Tuesday afternoon.  I don't, and cannot, serve Montpelier alone.  I'm humbled and grateful to have wonderful people around me to ensure that we care for each and everyone connected to Montpelier Public Schools.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year... New Resolution?

Tradition says at the new year, one makes resolutions.  Personally, I've never been good at that and try to avoid making them.  However, during the winter recess, I saw the following image on Twitter and was inspired: 

So much of what we read about in the news, on social media, so much of what permeates our world are people taking down other people.  Literally and figuratively.  We are being shown in words and in deeds, that to exercise power we must do it at the expense of others.  

I wholeheartedly disagree.  

In education, relationships are what matters.  I remember some "content" from my many years in classrooms as a student, yet can easily name my most influential teachers by name.  Their imprint on my life goes far beyond the things they taught me; their imprint is a result of the relationship we built together.  It is a result of how I felt when I was in their classrooms: safe, included, and cared for.  

So while I am still reluctant to make a resolution to begin 2018, I do promise to be more thoughtful and purposeful about lifting others.  Will you join me?