As we conclude this school year and begin planning the re-opening of schools in September, the safety of our staff, students and community is our highest priority. That said, in recent days, I have been reflecting on the word “safe” and what it truly means. While we have been mostly using the term in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the word takes on deeper meaning for me following the horrific and tragic death of George Floyd, and countless other African-American people before him.
I am sad, angry and frustrated. To the African-American members of our community, I cannot fully appreciate how deeply affected and pained you must feel by not only this most recent act – but by all acts that reflect a deep-seeded bigotry in our nation’s communities. However, I can and will accept the responsibility to ensure our school district reflects something different.
Let me be clear: the Berkeley Heights Public Schools will not tolerate any form of racism, discrimination or bias in any of our buildings nor at any school sponsored event. And we will always address areas of concern with open eyes and open hearts.
Let me be equally clear that talk is cheap if we do not accept personal responsibility to do better. We must work together to assure our continued outstanding partnership with the BH Police Department, approach conversations with new insights and commit to keeping everyone in our community safe.
Nobody is born racist, it’s learned… and if racism can be learned, it can be unlearned… more important if racism can be learned, so can love, fairness, justice, equality, and inclusion.
In their song, "Teach Your Children," rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young tell us to be self-aware and mindful of those who are following in our path, “You who are on the road… must have a code… that you can live by....” Their words are as applicable to leaders as they are to parents, or anyone else, and sadly, the underlying principle is probably abused more today than at any time in history.
As leaders, we’re responsible not just for charting a course, but also for establishing guardrails that serve as boundaries for our route of travel. This is “in bounds” and that is “out of bounds.” That expectation applies to everyone on the “bus”, starting with the one whose hands are on the wheel.
Much is being said of late about the importance of achieving and maintaining a culture that supports diversity and inclusion, and that’s a good thing, as culture and school climate are vitally important to the school district’s health and vitality, especially in times like these. Dr. Varley said in her note last week the answer lies in our core values: Include, Inspire, Empower.
We adopted this motto earlier 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. We 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. We are 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.
We recognize this is just the beginning of many difficult conversations we must have regarding racial injustice in our country. However, these conversations absolutely are necessary to create the change we seek and begin the healing process. We are on a pathway to change – and the actions we take now will be felt far beyond this moment. In the face of systemic racial injustice, brutal inequality and senseless violence we have witnessed in the U.S against the black community, it is clear that the status quo is not an option… and silence is not an option either.
We look forward to working with our students, staff, the Superintendent, the BH Diversity Council and the community at large to end racism. We all have a role to drive defining and sustainable action. Most important, we are accountable to each other and must stand united in our commitment and resolve to do better - - and we will. We have started, but we clearly are not done.