OPINION: Continuing our work to create schools that reflect our diverse city
”My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu
In celebration of Black History Month, I want to highlight an important right that every child across every neighborhood in New York City deserves — the right to an equitable and excellent education. We must continue to invest in significant, necessary changes to ensure that no student, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or religious beliefs, is denied that right.
The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that there is one. That’s what the students at Brooklyn Technical High School accomplished by speaking up about racially based incidents, including unfair treatment and discriminatory comments that were taking place. Students vocalized their concerns, and as a result, administrators at the school and staff at the New York City Department of Education (DOE) listened to them, acknowledged their issues and set in motion steps to ensure that corrective measures are taken. Through engagement, led by Brooklyn Tech Principal Randy Asher in partnership with District 13 Superintendent Karen Watts and Central DOE support staff, a plan has been put in place and is being implemented.
The DOE does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We have acknowledged a problem and have educators on the ground working with the school community every day to address it. We know that this is by no means a new issue, but it is an important one in our schools and communities. When this happens, it needs to be candidly acknowledged, categorically repudiated and directly addressed. This means that we will continue to have tough conversations and work to unravel these complex issues. As a life-long educator, I know there is nothing more important than ensuring all students are empowered to learn in supportive, inclusive and trusting environments.
Our Equity and Access programs expand opportunities for historically underserved school communities and provide a variety of resources to ensure students and adults can get the information, tools and training they need to better prepare for success in school and beyond. Respect for All Week, Feb. 9-12, provides us with additional opportunities to highlight and build upon ongoing diversity programs and instruction, ensuring that we are teaching all of our students the importance of respect and inclusion.
Students learn from interacting and collaborating with classmates of diverse backgrounds. Through Respect for All, we encourage school communities to come together, celebrate their differences and open their minds to other cultures, ideas and beliefs; and in doing so, gain a better understanding of those around them.
We know we can do more. We must ensure that each child, regardless of where they live across the city, is receiving the education they deserve. It is going to take commitment, a comprehensive approach and community participation to build consensus to create an equity-based system and provoke real change that results in truly expanding educational opportunities for all. Our Community School Initiative is one of many steps being taken toward reaching this goal.
We will continue to confront the issue of disparity, and broaden opportunities for all students. As educators, it is our duty to teach future generations to be inclusive and respectful of other people and ideas. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we must and we will do more for our students.
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