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Racial equity statement.June 2020

Statement from Superintendent Russell
Posted on 06/03/2020

Statement on racial equity

The entire country, and in fact, the world, is experiencing collective grief over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, by four officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. Mr. Floyd’s death follows countless other wrongful deaths and acts of police brutality against people of color in our country.

A couple of years ago, the McMinnville School District began an intentional and intensive focus on race and equity. Why race and not poverty, when so often the two are linked? Why race and not educational attainment, when so often the two are connected? Why race and not home ownership, or sexuality, or language, some may wonder. Instead, we engaged in that uncomfortable and intentional discussion about race and equity.

In 2016, MSD students felt compelled to organize school walkouts because they feared for themselves, if they were students of color, or if Caucasian, they feared for their friends and classmates. This occurred during the time that the country was embroiled in the early days of "build a wall" rhetoric. Before I go further, let me assure you that I'm not writing this statement as a political declaration on the challenges of immigration. That is not my place. My role is to keep students safe, to create an environment that welcomes them and affords them the opportunity to thrive. My job is to ensure that all our students are better off tomorrow than they are today. 

After I spoke to a representative group of district staff of color, I learned how much better things were for them today then they may have been in the past, but I also learned that it was not good enough, and that we could do better. After hearing some stories about personal experiences shared by some of our adults of color who may have been marginalized by colleagues, I knew we had to do better.

Our employee group does not reflect, proportionately, the students we serve. Our largest minority population is Hispanic, about 33 percent. Yet, our employee group is 85 percent white. Having more employees of color allows for the offering of multiple perspectives in the decision making and culture building process in each school and enhances opportunities for understanding between families and school staff. It is true that in Oregon all school districts compete for native Spanish speakers, but I knew we could do better to recruit staff of color. And yes, it's true we have interview committees and believe we are hiring the best candidate for the job, but I wondered what we might be missing. 

Why would we focus on race when we are not racists? I don't think any of us believe that we are. That horrible word implies intentional actions to harm someone because of their color. We don't do that, do we? 

As a district, we needed to explore and dig deeper into the issue of race and equity because we needed to do better for our students and staff of color.

Some of the things I learned, alongside my colleagues, as we studied race, is that a contributing factor that may go along with the adverse life conditions faced by many people of color, is the generational trauma that results from years of systemic discrimination. When we were learning about trauma, often in the context of adverse childhood conditions fueled by racism, we learned how such trauma can take years to overcome. The stories we hear from people of color, who live in fear of death by law enforcement, is an example of trauma, an example that I could not even begin to imagine how to deal with on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or lifetime basis.

Unlike educational attainment, career advancement, or even an individual's exercise regime, a person of color can't change the fact that they were born black or brown in order to achieve privileged status, while those who make the decisions in our country and in our communities remain predominantly white. While the decisions and actions our leaders and public officials make are often done with the best of intentions, for the most part they are made by people who have not gained a deep understanding of the experiences of people of color in this country, as compared to the experiences of white people.

Through our exploration of race and equity, I learned about the importance of white allies. White people should speak up on behalf of people of color, who many times aren’t treated equitably when making a loan application to buy a house or start a small business, or in a job interview, or while shopping, dining out, or going about their daily lives in a variety of public spaces. We are supposed to speak up. That's not politics or blame and shame, it's just the truth, and it is something we can do better.

A lot of people, including our students, staff, and broader community, are speaking up right now. This is an historic period in our country and world. No matter our age, nationality, or ethnicity, we are all living through this collective grief together, and doing so in the time of a pandemic. Many of our students and staff have spoken up against racial injustice through peaceful protests. In fact, just yesterday our students organized a peaceful demonstration in our community. I could not be more proud of their efforts or of the many members of our school community who work each day to support one another. They are unified to do better, to achieve a more empathetic and equitable world. 

The McMinnville School District will continue to commit to the following actions to address racial equity:

--Train and improve upon, as needed, the district’s Anti-Discrimination Policy
--Increase the recruitment and retention of staff of color
--Improve Spanish/English translation services
--Commit to an additional/third year of racial equity training
--Systematically monitor discipline referral rates to ensure students of color are not disproportionately targeted
--Continue to support McMinnville’s Hispanic PTA, the first in the state
--Continue to support the Hispanic Parent Advisory Council leadership
--Plan for an Equity Program Coordinator position
--Provide culturally relevant curriculum and materials for students
--Work with student groups and community agencies to achieve equity for all

 We can and must do better. Our times demand it.

03 June, 2020
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