To the Editor:
The subject of equity and diversity has been a topic of significant discussion this year, both nationally and within Hopewell Valley. Two events this week help illustrate the progress our School District has made in this area, but also the challenges we continue to face.
On Thursday, October 15, 2020, Superintendent Dr. Smith and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Treece hosted a community event at which Dr. Howard Stevenson from the University of Pennsylvania discussed how talking about race can be stressful, the importance of student conversations with parents and educators about race, and how mindfulness techniques can be used to reduce stress and promote more consequential discussions about race and equity. Dr. Stevenson noted that we often think of progress as a linear trend, but in reality it is more frequently characterized by a series of advances and reverses. This resonated with me because of the prior day’s notification from the TMS and CHS principals about recent Zoom “bombing” session interruptions which included offensive racial epithets.
Dr. Smith began the meeting by explaining that the Board of Education views diversity issues among our highest priorities. In closing, Dr. Treece shared that the District and our Board of Education has been actively been working on equity and racial literacy initiatives for over six years. As a member of the Board since 2011, I feel fortunate to have participated in the District’s early diversity planning, and I am the only current Board member that has been involved in our equity and cultural competency program development since its inception. My early years on the Education Committee focused upon identifying the underlying causes for performance differences among student cohorts observed in standardized testing and working to eliminate systemic barriers to progress. We also reviewed differences in imposed discipline and other areas where bias may have been present. As chair of the Personnel Committee I stressed the importance of a diverse teaching staff and promoted our participation in the CJ PRIDE program. I contributed to our comprehensive equity planning, and as Policy Committee chair, I led a team that strengthened and expanded our equity and affirmative action policies. The Board has now begun discussions about the findings of our equity audit and its recommendations for future action.
Despite this progress, we continue to see incidents of harassment and racism occur inside our schools and community. When these episodes occur, the proactive steps that our District has taken are not always readily apparent. For example, we have incorporated education and restorative justice practices when addressing these incidents, and have seen measurable progress from the mindfulness actions taken in our schools. These gains do not receive much public attention since we rightfully focus on the things we still need to improve. While events such as these can be disheartening, they reinforce the need for us to stay vigilant, learn and improve our policies and practices, and continue along our journey toward a truly equitable school community.
The District’s equity work began by reflecting upon our internal circumstances, but in order to take a holistic approach we realized we must involve the entire community. We have held several community conversations, and programs like this one are helpful in advancing our dialogue. It is my wish to continue participating in these efforts as a member of the Board. I respectfully request that you re-elect me this November so that I may continue this important work.
Adam J. Sawicki Jr.