Dear Families and Staff,
I write to you today in grief and pain. I grieve at the death of George Floyd, and so many others due to the color of their skin. I grieve for our country, as violence tears our cities and communities apart. I am in pain talking to my daughters as we watch the news: a man shot while jogging; a woman in central park demonstrating the ugliness of racism in action, horrifying video of a Minneapolis based police officer killing a defenseless man by kneeling on his neck; and marchers, looters, tear gas, flames. All of this against the backdrop of a pandemic that has killed over 100,000 Americans, devastated the economy, and disrupted all of our lives. What do I say to my children? What can we do? What do we do?
The answer is in our core values: Include, Inspire, Empower. Berkeley Heights Public Schools adopted this motto this year.
They are not just words. They are the statement of what we believe in, who we are, and what we want our students to become. I have deep faith in the power of education as the foundation for a better future. We must continue educating ourselves and our children in our shared history no matter how uncomfortable and difficult that may be. I am wholly committed to our core values to include, inspire, and empower for they echo those values at the core of America: equality, justice, and freedom for all.
As a nation and a people, we have seen these dark times before, and as a nation and a people we have overcome. I have faith we will do so again. I believe, as did Dr. King, that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. But I know, as Dr. King knew, that it is our actions that bend it. As difficult as these last few weeks and months have been, they also present an opportunity for us to engage our students in meaningful conversation, seize the moment to teach important life lessons, and instill values that will last a lifetime.
Over the past year, I have been working with district administration and staff to ramp up our engagement on these issues. We have done so on multiple levels: joining the Kean University Diversity Council, engaging student groups in round-table discussions, focusing curricular development and classroom instruction on issues of equality and inclusion, adding and reviving courses. Most recently, I have started a district Diversity Council that will liaise with the town’s Diversity Council to develop programs in both the community and the schools. Finally, I have worked with Chief John DiPasquale to create a roundtable where our students can ask him their questions about recent events. I know that these are small steps, in the face of much larger and deeper issues. But from small things, big things grow.
I started writing this letter in my grief and pain. As I end it, I find another feeling growing: hope. It is hope that banishes the darkness. Hope in the future, hope that we will come together as a community and a nation and build a better tomorrow with our children, for our children.
Melissa Varley, Superintendent
Berkeley Heights Public Schools