Plans and reflections on our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear staff, students, families and community,

As we head into our last official days of school for the 2019-20 school year, I have an update for you on a number of important plans moving forward.  It’s a bit on the comprehensive side, so thank you for taking a few minutes to read.

First, it is an exciting week for our high school seniors, whose last day of school is Thursday, June 11. All our remote graduations will be live streamed at 6 p.m. on Friday, June 12 (you will find links on our high school webpages in the coming days), and then available to watch via YouTube after the livestream.

Since my messages on May 31 and June 3, district leadership and I have received and responded to hundreds of emails, social media comments and phone calls about our continued work with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and our statements on becoming an even more anti-racist organization. I thank every person who took time to share their thoughts, stories, gratitude and suggestions for improvement.  I also thank those who engaged in what can be fraught and challenging conversations. In my experience, conversations about race are some of the most difficult, emotional and important, and the only way out is through, with a genuine desire to learn more and do better for everyone in our community.

I wanted to share more details with our whole community about efforts that we have already begun, and those that we plan for the future. We are not perfect, but we are adding to our toolkit every day to make our district a place where all students are able to live The Bellingham Promise without stumbling blocks that remain from systemic forms of discrimination and racism.

Here are some actions we have already taken at a systemic level, with our staff:

  • Adding EDI as a key strategy of The Bellingham Promise in 2019
  • Our staff co-developed a high school Ethnic Studies class (HIS 414) in partnership with faculty at Western Washington University.

Description of ethnic studies class

  • Our school board adopted a new race and equity policy in August 2019, which acknowledges our EDI work and keeps us accountable “to interrupt factors that perpetuate systemic inequities and practices that contribute to over- and under-representation of any student group compared to peers.”
  • Our leadership and many of our staff districtwide have engaged in professional development, reading books and incorporating what they learn into their schools and worksites. Some staff are planning summer reading groups and other professional development related to EDI. This is ongoing work, and we want to acknowledge the importance of continued learning in this area. It’s not about one book or one seminar providing all the answers, rather we strive to understand diverse ideas and perspectives. Below are some titles for you to look up at the library or your favorite bookstore. You can see a full list of books we recommend on our EDI webpage.
    • Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond
    • How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
    • Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving
    • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J. DiAngelo

Here are some actions we are taking to support our students in feeling safe and included:

  • I want to acknowledge the additional work our staff of color do that is often unrecognized to support our students of color. We see you, and I know you are working in additional ways that are not always recognized.
  • We continue to invest in training around restorative practices instead of suspending or expelling students.
  • We continue listening to different viewpoints regarding the role of law enforcement partners in our schools. Some districts have officers based in each building, but we do not. Currently, we have one resource officer for the entire school district (23 sites), in partnership with the City of Bellingham. As a way to build and enhance positive relationships, since 2018, we have invited first responders to share meals on campus with students; we are currently reviewing the goals of this program and will determine whether to adjust it.
  • Staff members, like our campus monitors, administrators, other support staff and our 30 counselors, help keep our students feeling safe and secure. We also maintain a safety reporting and tip line, where students, parents or community members who have information, tips, or concerns regarding a safety issue in our schools are encouraged to text or call 844-310-9560 or visit bellinghamschools.org/safe for confidential, anonymous, two-way communication with our safety staff.
  • We will add a district level mental health coordinator. This person’s role will be to coordinate support as we think about the health and well-being of our staff and students returning in the fall, as well as to increase our coordination with local mental health agencies and services. This position will be funded with a private grant and federal dollars.
  • Prior to the pandemic, we had planned on adding a new position to help us continue to increase staff diversity and support professional development around EDI. We were holding off given the uncertainties related to our economy and budget, but given recent events, we are strongly considering adding capacity in this area. This may mean developing a new position or repurposing a current position.

Here are some ways we will continue to partner with families on this work:

Our annual publication Priorities for Progress and our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion webpage also offer some details in this important work.

Please continue to share your thoughts and questions with me or with other staff members you trust. We are all in this together to make our community and schools more just and equitable places.

Another subject that is on many of your minds is next fall. The Washington state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is expected to release guidance to school districts at the end of the week, so we anticipate reviewing their report and sharing our takeaways soon. We are in the process of assembling our own reopening schools advisory committee, which will be working through the summer along with a number of work groups. Please look for survey opportunities as feedback from our staff, students and families will be critical.

And seniors: one more day!  Congratulations. 😊

Greg Baker