Superintendents have the opportunity and responsibility to be the bully pulpit against hostile school environments and inequities in their school districts.
Catherine Lhamon, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, shared insight on efforts to move our nation to true educational equity, during her keynote address at the annual Dr. Effie H. Jones Memorial Luncheon on Friday. Championing equity in educational leadership honors the legacy of Effie H. Jones, former associate executive director of AASA.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is the nation’s eyes and ears to civil rights, Lhamon explained. Currently, the commission is documenting hate incidents in school districts that came to its attention.
In one incident (caught on video), a student was walking slowly to class after witnessing a school fight. The teacher, aware that the student had attempted suicide, told her that she should commit suicide if she didn’t hurry to class. The student reacted negatively and hit the teacher. The student was disciplined by the school; the teacher was not.
In another instance, a Latino student was beaten up by other students until he was bloodied. Soon after the incident his mother came to school and found the school had no one on staff who could speak Spanish, so the child had to tell his mother what had happened.
“If it’s not acceptable for my daughter, it’s not acceptable for any child (to be in hostile school environments),” said Lhamon. “We need to let all students know they are valued in our schools. There needs to be effective strategies in schools to deal with these issues. Those strategies are doable with the right leadership.”
Also at the annual lunch event, two individuals were recognized for their exceptional leadership as exemplified by the Effie H. Jones Humanitarian Award. The recipients were Dennis O’ Hara, superintendent of Hauppauge, N.Y., Public Schools, and Valeria Silva, educational consultant with the NYC Leadership Academy and AASA superintendent-in-residence.
O’Hara was recognized for his focus on developing a college-ready culture in his district. Silva was honored for her work with educators in Puerto Rico this past fall before and after the hurricane.
The newly honored 2018 Superintendent of the Year®, David Schuler, addressed the luncheon and expressed the impact of this annual affair.
“Many of my biggest takeaways and aha moments come from this luncheon,” Schuler stated. “The word that comes to mind is perseverance — we need to teach kids to persevere and be resilient.”
This year’s luncheon added an artistic element to its program with two former educators, Kate Morales and Se7en.
Morales, a graphic artist and visual note taker, depicted main themes and quotes from this event. She also took visual notes during a Thought Leader session on equity. Se7en performed two of his original poems — “I Teach” and “Before the First Bell Rings.”
“This year, we wanted to find different ways to tell and capture stories,” said Sharon Adams-Taylor, associate executive director of AASA. “That will help us remember and act on what we’ve learned today.”
Lhamon is AASA’s inaugural Tom Sobol lecturer. Sobol, a former superintendent in New York State, founded Public Schools For Tomorrow.
(Rebecca Shaw is a reporter for Conference Daily Online.)