Dear Fellow Paideians,
We are writing to update our community about Black Lives Matter issues at Paideia. Much has happened in the last month, inspired by the student BlackatPaideia Instagram posts that showed us a perspective we needed to see and also the depth of the work the school needs to do to create a safe and nurturing environment for all of our students and particularly our students of color. This environment means also creating a safe space for students to share when those conditions are not met.
We know that our work is not something that can be captured by a list of initiatives or bullet points, but must be integrated into how we approach education at every age level. We assure you that the school faculty, administration, and board of trustees are committed to these fundamental goals and that we will make it a foundation of our educational and community mission going forward.
During the last several weeks we have been meeting and listening to members of the Paideia community to understand the past and to inform how we advance meaningful change. In a number of instances, the school has already taken action.
We will continue to listen, learn, and engage on these important issues and continuously strive to do better. These conversations have included:
- Faculty meetings in all levels of the school that focus on assessing the climate, curricula and improvements in school policy around racial harassment and bullying: English and social studies curricula in the high school; an expansion of Race, Class, and Gender curriculum in the junior high; and the focus and coordination of the central subject in the elementary school.
- Meeting of Black faculty with Paul, to assess curricula and climate issues and to make recommendations for diversity, equity and inclusion. Additional meetings have been scheduled during the summer and after school begins.
- A webinar attended by 270 families, which served as an introduction to smaller sessions by area of the school. The three smaller sessions were each attended by 60 to 70 families who shared their experiences with school personnel and their widespread commitment to racial equity at Paideia community.
- A Black Parent Organization meeting with Paul, other school administrators, Oman Frame and Nisha Simama, who has returned to help with Paideia's efforts in DEI. Oman and Nisha are longstanding faculty leaders in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Preliminary data from the National Association of Independent School AIM survey was shared with the BPO and is also on the school website.
- Two alumni ZOOM meetings, one with Black alums and another open to all alums of the school.
As we continue these conversations, we want to update you on other actions we have taken that have been informed by these conversations:
- An extensive board of trustee discussion and an initial action plan was developed at the regularly scheduled June meeting. The board established a committee including Wayne Aaron, Paul Bianchi, Laura Magnanini (assistant head) Oman Frame, Nisha Simama, and trustees Melinda Holladay, Shenia Kirkland and Ade Patton to hire an outside consultant to work with the different constituencies in order to provide an independent audit of school culture, data, and initiatives, and also to propose a set of public recommendations for the school to achieve meaningful change. The committee started with an extensive list of consultants offered by members of the Paideia community, narrowed the list down to three, and conducted extensive interviews with each on July 2 and July 7. Upon additional discussions and review, the committee will share the final selection by early next week.
- The board is establishing a diversity, equity and inclusion committee made up of trustees and non-trustees to monitor progress and recommend to the board future directions.
- Nisha Simama and Linda Zamora Epstein, dean of student affairs for the entire school, have begun to work with the student leaders of BlackatPaideia, LASSO, and Asian American groups to help the students translate ideas into action. One possible outcome is a coalition student summit early in the school year. Kristi Budd, in addition to her role as high school counselor, will support Mary Lynn Cullen, Brooke Marty, and the elementary faculty in their DEI work.
- All faculty and staff are required to read one of three books in preparation for the August retreat. The books are: How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi; Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude Steele; and We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom by Bettina Love (audiobooks only).
- Continued professional development which include a White Privilege study group and White Anti-Racist Educators in the elementary school and junior high. Teachers have attended introductory courses in Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain; three teachers will attend a national workshop on racial literacy. The faculty committee will continue to meet to discuss how to maintain this staff development work long-term for all faculty and staff.
- The junior high and high school administrators are reviewing practices and policies in both the student handbook and faculty/staff handbook around incidents of racial harassment- specifically in regard to improvements in reporting and the handling of incidents of racial harassment. These handbooks are distributed prior to the start of school. A parallel elementary handbook is being developed.
- The school will not tolerate racial epithets and slurs.
In addition to the actions outlined above, both the school and the board have taken previous steps that are outlined on the Paideia homepage.
We are committed that these actions are not one-time initiatives, but must be sustained and embedded in how we operate the school followed by a continued and open dialogue in order to effect permanent change.
While the common marathon-not-a-sprint metaphor applies, there is also urgency that our community makes this work a priority. While we have miles to go, we are also fortunate to have the strength of passionate current and past families, past students, faculty and current students who are deeply committed to making change together, not only for Paideia but for our collective social good.
We will work together as we move forward and to put every one of our student's safety and well-being as our first priority. We will keep the community apprised of additional actions.
Chair, Board of Trustees
Head of School