Learning From Our Mistakes

Friday, May 14th, 2021 - Posted in District Communications

By Superintendent Randall Booker and Board President Cory Smegal

from the May 14th, 2021 issue of the Piedmont Ahead newsletter

We teach our students about growth mindset because we want them to learn from their mistakes. We need to practice what we preach. The adults in PUSD made a big mistake recently, and we must grow and learn from it.

As most of you know by now, on April 21 a district leader sent an email inviting all students at Millennium High School and Piedmont High School to participate in racial affinity groups using a subject line that implied that white students needed the same support as students of color. Students rightfully called attention to the email and the administrator quickly apologized and clarified that the intent of the white students’ group was for white students to learn how to be a better ally. That apology and explanation alone was not enough.

The wounds caused by the insensitive email are significant, and the subsequent spotlight on our community has been painful for many, especially our students. We are sorry for the harm caused. We are taking this incident with the utmost seriousness to ensure that something like this does not happen again. Our resolve to achieve racial equity and support our students during this time of national reckoning on race is even stronger today than it was before April 21.

Our Board and our district leaders see this as an opportunity for transformation that will strengthen the work we are doing to achieve equity for all students. We are engaged in deep reflection and identifying tangible actions we can take. We are debriefing, reviewing internal protocols and examining what could have been handled differently, including our communication with the community explaining what happened. Meanwhile, many conversations internally and externally are resulting in deeper understanding about the complexities related to racial justice work.

We are at the very beginning of our anti-racism work as a district. In July 2020 the Piedmont School Board made a strong commitment to racial justice in a resolution condemning institutional racism, and in September 2020 the Board passed a racial equity board policy that was crafted in collaboration with various stakeholders in the community–teachers, classified staff, students, parents, administrators, and Board. We are also working in close partnership with Piedmont Anti-Racism and Diversity Committee (PADC) and Piedmont Racial Equality Campaign (PREC) on racial equity.

Here are a few things that have happened recently:

  • April 22: A restorative circle open to all PUSD staff in connection with the Derek Chavin verdict was held.
  • April 23: A restorative circle for Black students in connection with the Derek Chavin verdict was held.
  • April 26: A restorative circle for all Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students in connection with the Derek Chavin verdict was held.
  • Postponed: The circle for white allies was postponed to provide time to educate students, staff, and community members about the role of racial affinity groups. It is still planned to be held at a later date.
  • April 27: The students who posted the Tik Tok videos participated in a restorative justice circle with the administrator who sent the email, who acknowledged the harm caused and listened to the students share their thoughts on how she can improve as a leader.
  • April 28: The Board ratified the appointment of Dharini Rasiah as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to bring leadership, perspective, and vision to implementing the goals and actions outlined in the Racial Equity Board Policy/Administrative Regulation and Educational Equity Board Policy, translating the efforts already in progress and those in the two equity board policies into actionable goals, measurable outcomes, and sustainable results.
  • April 29: A memo was sent to all PUSD staff providing context and information on the rationale for providing racial affinity groups for high school students. These resources were shared with staff to help them understand the intent and purpose of offering affinity groups.
  • May 6: Over 30 PUSD staff members participated in Part 1 of a community circle.

We have received many questions from the community over the last few weeks, and while we do not have room to answer each and every one here, we have prepared an FAQ that is now available on the district website.

A recent article in the New York Times suggests that moments of disruption offer a unique opportunity to set and achieve new goals. While the article focused on the pandemic, the idea of the “fresh start effect” is pertinent to our grappling with this situation. Let’s use what we have learned to move forward.

We invite you to join us on our journey to becoming an anti-racist district.

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