I’ve typically used this column to celebrate positive achievements throughout our school district. And, there is so much to celebrate and so many to recognize! Thank you to remarkable teachers, administrators and support professionals who strive every day to make a difference in the lives of children.
Recently, we have been experiencing an escalation of intolerant behavior in our schools. Instances of fighting, taunting, cyberbullying and harassment are on the rise. One could easily conclude that the current national discourse in areas such as politics, religious tolerance, race relations, free speech, etc. is filtering into our schools and having a substantial impact.
I’m calling upon every Weber School District employee to be proactive in establishing a climate in each of our schools and in every classroom where tolerance is promoted and bias speech or conduct is eliminated. You can do this on a daily basis by setting a tone in your school and classroom where inclusion is encouraged and tolerance is promoted. Each one of us should find teachable moments to clearly articulate expectations and zero-tolerance policies regarding the denigration of others for any reason—whether that’s clothing, appearance, body size, gender orientation, religious differences, ethnicity or race. Please ensure that potential vulnerable students are protected and feel safe. Creating a safe learning environment is the first key to a whole child education. Inspire students to have the courage to speak up when they see or hear anything that would compromise that safe school climate.
Several years ago, we had the privilege of hosting Elizabeth Eckford, one of the original Little Rock Nine, at one of our schools. Elizabeth recounted the nightmarish experience she had at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, as one of the first students of color to attend a desegregated school in 1957—60 years ago! What she experienced then still haunts her to this day. In fact, she continues to suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome). It was an extraordinary thing to watch our young students interact with Elizabeth, who rarely makes a public appearance. So many students connected with her on a profoundly personal level as they considered their own vulnerabilities and insecurities. It was one of the most memorable days of my professional career. At the conclusion of the day, Elizabeth shared something with me that I’ll never forget. She told me that she was an acquaintance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On one occasion, Dr. King described for her what he envisioned as a “Beautiful Community.” Then, she paid the highest tribute when she said, “After spending a day in your city and in your district, I believe this is a ‘beautiful community.’”
I’ve come to realize that keeping our district and our town a “beautiful community” requires constant vigilance. While we may not be able to change the national discourse, we can certainly influence what takes place in our schools. The power of a teacher, principal or support professional should never be underestimated. So, I’m calling on each of you to join with me in saying, “NOT IN OUR DISTRICT!” Let’s work together to ensure that every student feels safe from bullying and harassment. Let’s re-double our efforts to make sure that every student feels valued. And, let’s fight to ensure that tolerance, inclusion and acceptance become hallmarks of our schools. It truly is “The Weber Way.”