School Year Saw Significant Challenges

 

Without question, our school district has faced some significant challenges in the 2016-17 school year, including the tragic passing of Board of Education Member Solana Henneberry, a lawsuit filed against Measure B and the recent recommendation we, as staff, had to make to the Board of Education to relocate students and staff from Lum Elementary School due to recent discoveries of seismic hazards and safety concerns at that school site. 

We have also seen an uptick in hate speech at our school sites this year, ranging from graffiti motivated by racial and religious bias to direct speech aimed at individual students. These have been challenging times, indeed.

We know these situations have been emotional and upsetting. We know we must focus our commitment and our efforts on now coming to terms with their impact and repairing the trauma we have seen as we move forward. But as we approach the end of a very tumultuous year, I also want to remind our community about some amazingly good work being done at our schools, in our district and in partnership with other community organizations. 

These help continue our attempts to help make Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) a more inclusive, supportive community for all. We must stay mindful of challenges and milestones alike. There is work yet needed, but there is work underway.

First, in response to an increase in hate speech and anti-immigration rhetoric in our nation, we partnered with other organizations to put on a “Know Your Rights” Workshop at Ruby Bridges Elementary School for immigrant families led by the City’s Social Service Human Relations Board. 

Facilitated by Sara MacPherson of the International Institute of the Bay Area, the workshop focused on helping Alameda families answer questions about their rights, deportation concerns and ICE raids in their homes, schools, workplaces and wider community. Alameda Police Chief Paul Rolleri also spoke about Alameda’s Sanctuary City status and what it means for our community.

A similar workshop specifically tailored for Arabic-speaking and Muslim families will also be coordinated by the Social Service Human Relation Board and held later this summer.
In addition, Jacqueline Regev, education director with the Anti-Defamation League’s Central Pacific Region, led a discussion on how to disrupt bigotry, bullying, and hate crimes. The PTA Council co-sponsored “Imagine a World without Hate.” 

AUSD and school districts across the county, state and nation have witnessed an increase in hate incidents since November. These include racial bias incidents and anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ speech. We are grateful that our LGBTQ Round Table helped design the “Everyone Belongs Here” campaign last year, knowing as we do that it provided a powerful platform for both our school district and our community at large to respond to these incidents. Community members adopted this theme to respond to the first instance of hate graffiti in February. 

10We have continued to use the theme as our internal compass as we have navigated similar situations at our school sites. Using this compass, AUSD has also helped convene new round tables, including the work of the Black Achievers Alliance and ALCANCE (our Latino achievement round table).

In the wake of these incidents, our teaching and learning staff have also begun to look for ways to update the anti-bullying curriculum our district adopted in 2009. Much has happened in our city, state and country since our community struggled then with the issue of anti-bullying lessons for our elementary school students. 

I am excited to see what new kinds of lessons are available now for teaching students how to be more compassionate, accepting, and supportive of their peers. It is important for us to work together with our teachers and our support staff to make sure we are able to align our future anti-bias curricula with our new English Language Arts adoption also.

One of our first responses to the emerging threats against immigrant families was to pass a resolution declaring AUSD a “safe haven” district. We must remain committed to that vision and indeed to an expanded vision, one in which “safe haven” applies not just to immigrants but also to all our students, all our families, and all our staff.  And as I write this, I know there is ongoing work we must do to uphold our value of a more inclusive district and society.

As we near the end of this year, I wish you all safe and peaceful weeks ahead.

 

 

Sean McPhetridge is the Superintendent of the Alameda Unified School District.