• During a Board of Education meeting on July 7, students, alumni, and parents took the initiative to share their stories about racial inequity experienced within the Highland Central School District.

    Racism is a truly horrible word that spurs thoughts of intentional actions to harm someone because of their color. I don’t believe anyone believes he or she is a racist, but hearing these personal experience makes it clear that we, as a district, need to dig deeper into the issues of race and equity. We need to do better for our students and families of color.

    My role is to keep all students safe and to provide an environment that welcomes them and affords them the opportunity to thrive. So while we have been busy this summer developing a reopening plan for September, we have also been intentionally and intensively focusing on creating a planned approach for addressing racial inequity in our schools. We have been collaborating with concerned faculty members on this issue and have reached out to our surrounding school districts and professional contacts for guidance, references, and ideas.

    One important aspect that we recognized early on is the need for professional outside assistance in helping our District move forward in a positive and effective direction. After careful consideration, we have decided to hire Gess LeBlanc, Ph.D. to help us develop a comprehensive K-12 racial equity plan for Highland.

    Dr. LeBlanc is an Associate Professor and former Chair of the Department of Educational Foundations and Counseling Programs within Hunter College’s School of Education. He is also the co-founder of Hunter College’s Urban Center for Assessment, Research, and Evaluation (UCARE). As a developmental psychologist, Dr. LeBlanc has investigated the impact of developmentally and culturally responsive teaching on school climates. His research has been published in both psychological and educational journals.

    As part of his services, Dr. LeBlanc will provide direct support to Highland teachers, work collaboratively with various stakeholder groups, provide consultative support to school leaders and counselors, and conduct professional development sessions with faculty and staff. Much of his work will focus on self-awareness, institutional awareness, and community awareness.

    As we move toward improving racial equity in our District, we have identified key issues that will need to be addressed. These include, but are not limited to, school climate, the District Code of Conduct, educational equity, teacher diversity, and curriculum and culturally responsive instruction.

    The work we have already completed and/or are in the process of working on includes:

    • Searching, interviewing, and hiring an outside consultant to assist the District in working towards a racial equity framework.
    • Reviewing the District Code of Conduct to ensure it promotes racial equity.
    • Reaching out and meeting with District stakeholders.
    • Reviewing course offerings and racially insensitive language in District publications.

    In the coming months, our planning will include:

    • Faculty and staff training on racial equity.
    • Establishing District goals.
    • Establishing District and school level Equity Teams.
    • Developing a District Equity Plan. 

    At our Board meeting on Tuesday, August 18, we will have further discussion about establishing focus groups and forming a committee to focus on equity and school culture.

    This plan is the first step in the process of tackling this important issue. Regardless of what the reopening of schools looks like this fall, please be assured that we are committed to having this framework in place to help us address and promote racial equity in our District so all our students are provided with the environment needed to feel safe and valued.

    The journey towards achieving full racial equity in our schools will be one that has no finish line and, to make effective change, it will certainly be a marathon, not a sprint. Because we recognize this will be an ongoing effort, we are open to hearing voices from our community. If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 845.691.1014.

    Thank you for your continued support.

     

    Thomas Bongiovi

    Superintendent of Schools