Dear SES families and community,
This is a long email.
I am writing today to address the current protests happening in Portland and around the world, protests that shine a light on the systemic injustice and racialized violence that is both woven into the history of the United States of America, as well as ever-present in our modern day society. I am well aware that the ongoing trauma, the unnecessary and terrorizing loss of life due to racialized violence, simply compounds the layers and layers of trauma that underpin the day to day lived experience for black folks, Native folks and other folks of color in our country. In the middle of a pandemic, one where thousands of people of color are disproportionately losing their lives to COVID-19 because of the generational, compounded impact of our country’s systems on black and brown bodies, I recognize that the world feels like it’s truly burning, and the fight for a liberated society feels more important and urgent to me now than ever before.
As a white principal, I literally hold the most power in the entire school. This is not only based on my personal, racial identity, but public schools--like governments and other systems of the state--were purposefully designed to separate out the powerful from the powerless. As a white principal I try to be aware of this power, but sometimes, like all white people who are born into a racist system, my blinders are on. I make a lot of mistakes, and those mistakes have and continue to harm folks of color who I love, respect and admire. The power I hold makes my mistakes not only more visible, but it makes them all that more harmful in our school community. As principal my promise to you is that I work on this every minute of every day, and I will only stop working when my heart stops beating. That is my truth. I believe each of us has only two choices--to be racist or to be actively anti-racist. I am a white person who chooses to be anti-racist, and I also recognize that because I’m born into an intentionally designed, racist system of white supremacy, my anti-racist work must be a lifelong, daily commitment. While it can be hard and messy and uncomfortable for me, that’s a tiny fraction of what folks of color must endure to simply survive in America and keep themselves, their families and their children as “whole” as possible. Because of this, for me personally, choosing to be anti-racist is the only choice.
When it comes to this school, if you know me you know that I believe in the work that Carter G. Woodson started almost a century ago. He taught us that the purpose of public education is to change the social order for the good of a community, and that the public education system of a country is worthless unless it accomplishes this very thing. The vision of our school is one that teaches all children, regardless of their race, that they are worthy of responsible, fierce, tender love and they are responsible for sharing this love with others in their community. At SES we aim to teach all of our students that regardless of their racial identity they are, unfortunately and fortunately, responsible for their own liberation. It’s clear to me, now more than ever, that the grown ups (myself included) have failed them in this regard. This is our aspiration at Sunnyside; however, like other public schools, I know that SES also harms children every day. I am aware that the ways in which we/I harm children varies based on their own racial identity and lived experience. Again, in both my personal and professional life, I will continue to work on being an anti-racist every day. I will continue to try to love and teach children responsibly. I know I will continue to harm them, and when I do this, I will reckon with the harm I have caused and continue to try and repair. I will never stop reckoning with my own identity and power, and continue to actively and honestly take action toward being an anti-racist white person, an anti-racist school leader, and and anti-racist parent.
This is a lengthy way to set a context for what I’m about to say next. Email is a tough medium, especially with a vast, diverse audience whose lived experiences fill an entire societal spectrum. Below are some immediate commitments from myself and our staff, as well as some differentiated invitations for our school community at large:
--All of our children at SES, ages 5-15, have had an opportunity to talk about their own racial identity here at school. Each of them have already been taught that systems and rules are not fair, that they protect some groups of people and harm others. For this reason, every single one of our students can and should be talking about this with you at home. In distance learning this week, many of them will be focusing on systems of white supremacy, why protest is necessary, and actions--small and large--that they can take on their own or in their community as they imagine what a liberated society can look like and work to build this for themselves.
--These home conversations will look different in each of your family frames, based on your own racial identity, lived experiences and your beliefs. For white parents who are uncomfortable with these topics or who believe your children are “too young,” I call you in and invite you to reframe this for yourselves and your family. None of our students are “too young.” Being able to make a choice about when to start teaching your kids about this is a choice that is only given to those of us with societal power. Silence in your homes is harmful to your children. Please talk with your kids.
--It is no secret that our school is made up of 78% white students and 22% students and families of color. White folks, please do not reach out to families of color to ask for help or assistance. Please don’t ask families of color to do the labor of teaching while also living through past, present and future American racial terror. I instead invite you to go back to our weekly newsletters, use the resources we have provided over the years, or search the internet...it’s never been more full of resources for you. I invite you in to do the labor of your own learning. If you’d like to talk more about this and you identify as white, please reach out to me or another white teacher/friend/community member if need be. If you are white, please do not reach out to our communities of color or our staff of color unless it’s simply to say, “I am here to step aside quietly,” “I am here to listen,” or “You are not alone.”
--Our teachers have spent the last week in community with each other, planning instruction that responsively teaches students about the current state of our country. We know that such teaching and learning can cause unintended harm for our students of color, especially if the teacher is white. We are committed to truth-telling, committed to centering thousands upon thousands of stories from people of color, stories of love, resilience, humanity and brilliance that are often left out of school curriculum. We are committed to refraining from centering the trauma and death of people of color, and instead turn our focus toward action steps for liberation, the differing role of various members of our community at school and beyond based on racial identity, and we are working hard to ensure that our classrooms are as safe as possible for our students of color. Make no mistake--this does not mean we ignore the truth. This means we try to strike the delicate balance of truth-telling while providing hope, tangible actions for students based on age, and safety for our students of color while never nestling this in pity or white saviorism. Teachers have been hard at work thinking about our digital context right now, and what this instruction needs to look like to best meet the needs of each and every child in their classroom based on their race and identity.
--For our families and students of color, we continue to offer affinity spaces within the digital walls of SES. Our middle school students/staff of color group continue to meet weekly, and staff of color have been working together--without white staff--and are available to families and students of color at any time if you choose, regardless of who your teacher is this year. As a white principal I want to restate that you are not alone. I am writing this email as a white school leader. While my truth can’t be separated from my identity, I know that my work is to elevate voices of color, to listen, and to take action in a variety of ways to give away my power quietly and on the side. To help elevate voices and stories of folks of color while offering reparations in many different forms. I am taking action in this way every day right now. I intend for this to be the only communication coming from me that contains my own, personal experience.
--Lastly, I have attached our SES Racial Literacy Framework to this email, as well as a recent article for white families on how and why reparations are a necessary part of America’s healing. One of today’s 8th grade speakers, a student of color, ended her speech with the following message, one that I feel could not be more timely: “I think if you are not willing to acknowledge the past, the truth will always be obscured. That doesn’t mean you should dwell in the past endlessly but instead remember and acknowledge that the past has shaped the present we live in today. I think in order to create a bright future it takes strength to forgive the past but never forget it. For we are the product of the past. But more importantly, we are the producers of the future.”
The footer of my professional email comes from a close friend and one of my most important teachers, author Kiese Laymon. Kiese says you can not love any child in this nation if you refuse to accept that America was born of a commitment to the death, destruction and suffering of black and indigenous children and a moral annihilation of white children. I believe every word of this statement to be true, and this is the anchor I use when thinking about our school at large.
As principal, I remain committed to anti-racism and so do our school staff. I believe in that responsible, fierce, tender love for all of our children, and I promise you that as a school we will never stop trying to change the social order for the good of the community. Each and every child in America deserves nothing short of this.
Dear PPS Community,
As the 2019-20 school year comes to an end, we want to update you on the services and learning opportunities we are looking forward to providing this summer as we continue to adjust to the ever-changing landscape during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dear PPS Community,
The Portland Public Schools Board of Education is hosting its annual budget town hall virtually, so that community members can be heard, even in the midst of social distancing made necessary by COVID-19.
A public meeting of the Board of Education, acting in its capacity as the Budget Committee of Portland Public School District 1J, Multnomah County, Oregon, will take place during the regular School Board meeting on the 11th day of June at 6 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to receive any additional public comment related to the Superintendent’s budget message and Proposed Budget for the fiscal year July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, which was presented on May 26.
|Fridays May 8 - June 5||No School - District Furlough
|Mon-Thu May 13 - June 8
||8th Grade Speeches
|Monday, June 8
||8th Grade Drive-Through Promotion, 7:00
|Wednesday June 10||Last Day of School|
6:40 PM - 8:00 PM 8th grade promotion
6:00 PM - 9:00 PM District Board Meeting
6:00 PM District Board Meeting
6:00 PM District Board Meeting
6:00 PM District Board Meeting