Principal's Message December 12, 201812/12/2018
Dear Cleveland High School Families,
I want to take this opportunity to let you know about a specific incident of hate that occurred at Cleveland High School in late October. Unfortunately, our Vice Principals and I often have to respond to incidents of hate, racism, sexism, and discrimination. An important part of the work we do as school leaders is to create a safe environment for all students and teach our students how to respond to people with kindness and compassion. We strive to support all of our students who historically feel marginalized and/or targeted. To that end, it is important that I share this particular incident because it is an example of the challenges we face and because of the social-political-cultural climate of our nation.
In late October, a day or two after the traumatic shooting at a Pittsburgh, PA synagogue where 11 people were killed, I arrived at Cleveland High School in the morning and our Head Custodian, one teacher, and one Vice Principal shared two Jewish Student Union (JSU) club fliers that had been vandalized. One had a swastika written with a pencil and another club flier had hateful words written in pencil. We immediately removed these hateful fliers and walked around the building to see if we saw any other writing of this nature on JSU club fliers. We did not. We conducted an investigation to see if we could determine who may have written on the fliers. We determined that the writing occurred after the end of the school day the day before. We could not find any witnesses, making it very challenging to find out who may have done this. We concluded that only a handful of adults, the ones mentioned above and myself, had seen the fliers and that the harm they may have caused was contained. I kept the fliers in my office for almost three weeks. After not hearing from any students or staff members, I recycled the fliers.
On Friday, Nov. 16th, my Instructional Leadership Team, composed of teacher leaders in the building, brought to my attention that there were many questions about the swastika and the hateful message. We, as an administrative team, wanted to be immediately responsive. During parent-teacher conferences, I met with two Jewish families and spoke with the teacher advisor of the JSU. After doing so, we made the decision to center our students' voices from the JSU in order to ensure that their concerns were heard and we were responding to them directly.
The week after the break, I met with three wonderful student leaders of the JSU. They expressed their concern that I had not reached out to them when the swastika and message of hate was written on their fliers. They said they had heard about it from a teacher. I shared with them that I was very sorry for not coming to them immediately and, moving forward, I will make sure to let them know when there is anti-semitism in our school. Clearly, our JSU students wanted to be made aware and I am grateful for them letting me know. Together, we brainstormed next steps. The students wanted a forum to address the issue with our staff and our students. They shared that they felt the school had not done enough to be responsive to the atrocity in Pittsburgh. As a result, we, as a community, have taken several steps moving forward. Here is what we have done:
1) Student Panel for Our Staff:
I asked the JSU and members of our CARE (Cleveland Alliance for Racial Equity) Leadership class to offer a panel presentation with our staff as an audience and we planned some questions together in advance. They presented in front of approximately 90 staff last Tuesday, Nov. 27th. Our staff was moved and grateful for their presentation as they shared their experiences of discrimination and offered suggestions of what we can do as adults in the building. As the Principal, I stood up in front of my staff as part of introducing the panel and shared that being an anti-racist educator is hard work and that I, too, sometimes make mistakes. I took responsibility with my staff and the students for not immediately going to the JSU when we found the swastika and hateful message written on their club fliers and said that moving forward, I will be coming directly to the JSU when there is anti-Semitism in our school.
2) Social Studies Teachers Organized:
Our Social Studies teachers supported leaders of the JSU to do presentations in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade classes at the end of last week. I am proud of our teachers’ responsiveness and of our students’ courage to speak out about what anti-Semitism is and what their peers can do moving forward when they notice it.
3) Meeting with Parents:
As a result of the JSU student presentations in Social Studies classes, I have had several Jewish families wanting to dialogue with me about this incident. I have met with six Jewish families in our community last week and this week. I offered them this story, assured them that I share their concern, spoke about how we will do all we can to investigate every incident of anti-semitism that is reported to us, and we will communicate with our JSU student club regarding any similar incidents in the future.
4) Anti-Hate School Wide Assembly:
Kristy Mize, our Vice Principal in charge of clubs and activities, is bringing together the club advisors of our culturally-specific clubs and student leaders from those clubs/classes to discuss a school-wide anti-hate assembly. Our hope is that our students will be empowered and guided by us to offer practical tools to the student body to respond to hate in our school community. The administrative team will be directly involved in planning this assembly in an effort to communicate clearly with our students about when and how to report hate, racism, sexism, and/or discrimination.
5) 9th Grade Academy Field Trip:
One of our 9th Grade Academies, the Wy'East Academy, is taking students on a field trip to the Portland Art Museum's current exhibit titled "Memory Unearthed," an exhibit of Holocaust photographs. This is a collaboration between the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Jewish Museum, and the Center for Holocaust Education in February. This is not in response to the recent incidents of hate, specifically, as they had been planning this as part of their curriculum. However, it is timely and I plan on attending with them. They are in need of parent chaperones as well. Please let Laura Fisher, our Main Office Manager, know if you are a parent interested in chaperoning.
6) Principal Listening Sessions:
Beginning with the new semester in late January, I will be hosting parent listening sessions once-a-month on a Friday. These listening sessions will be open to any parent/guardian to attend. I look forward to sharing more information with you about those listening sessions in January. Finally, I want to thank you for reading this long email. I want to thank my staff for their reflections and commitment to being responsive to our students in this moment. AND, I want to thank members of the JSU Club and Jewish families in our community for reaching out to me to share questions, concerns, and ideas. Together, we will continue to create a caring environment for us all!
As someone who has been the victim of racism growing up in the rural south with a mother who is South Asian, and more recently in Portland in our post-9/11 world, I know intimately how traumatic hate speech and actions can impact individuals and communities. Please know that I, and WE (our staff at CHS), are your allies moving forward.