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AASA President Uses Painful Episode to Call for Greater Attention to Equity in Schooling

In her presidential address at the conference’s 1st General Session on Thursday, Deborah Kerr used a painful experience from the past year in her Wisconsin school community to deliver an important point about equity.

To illustrate the complicated nature of the work, Kerr, who is superintendent in Brown Deer, Wis., referenced a racial incident involving members of her school’s football team last October. “White football players from another school used the ‘N word’ directed at my quarterback and other members of our team,” she said from the stage at AASA’s national conference in San Diego.

Saying equity in education cannot be allowed to become a cliché, she told her audience that school system leaders “cannot turn a blind eye or sweep under the rug the continuous acts of blatant racism that go on before us. How long must our students of color and families be expected to carry this weight of trauma?”

This situation arose while Kerr was on an overseas education travel mission in Morocco with about 20 fellow AASA members.

“As we traversed through the Atlas Mountains on our tour bus, I started writing,” she said. “Those mountains inspired me. I needed to stand up for my students and speak my truth. If we don’t, who will?  It went viral. Thousands of people weighed in to support our students. Our athletic conference is now making changes. We need to be brave and stand up for our people, our students, families and staff.  We need to do what we can, when we can, while we can.”

In the aftermath, Kerr expressed her anger about the handling of the racist act. She complained the white referees officiating the football game were complacent.

In her posting on Twitter, Kerr said it was “time to hold school districts accountable for the actions of their students and the school community. It is extremely important for all of us to become allies in this work so that ‘ALL’ of our students feel loved and supported. If we are silent, then we are complicit with endorsing these kinds of behaviors. Who will advocate on behalf of ‘ALL children?”

Kerr, whose term as AASA’s elected leader runs until July, told those at the 1st General Session she considered this a call to action.

“We need to be courageous and tenacious just like Harriet Tubman, the conductor of the Underground Railroad,” she said. “She was willing to fight to do what was right. Equity is doing what is right! Together we are going to take our people to a brand-new home. This is our calling.”

(Jay P. Goldman is editor of AASA’s Conference Daily Online and School Administrator magazine.)

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