District-wide social justice plan proposed

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BRATTLEBORO — Windham Southeast School District is being asked to solidify its commitment to social justice and fighting systemic racism with an action plan for schools to put in place.

"This could be just a way for us to firmly express a lot of the work and things we've been doing for the past few years," Mikaela Simms, diversity coordinator for Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, said during a school board meeting held remotely this month. "I think it's a step to have an explicit stance instead of allowing people to make assumptions based on our actions. But we need to do both — we need to act and we need to be able to tell people what we are acting on."

The board is considering a list of action steps for schools in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Putney. Robin Morgan of Brattleboro, who supported related initiatives when serving on the board governing Brattleboro elementary schools before districts merged, called it "a gift to the building principals."

Michael Szostak, restorative justice coordinator at Brattleboro Union High School, created the proposal that was revised with input from a committee made up of parents, community members, teachers, and the superintendent. The district's Diversity and Equity Committee reviewed the plan and it will be on the school board's Wednesday meeting agenda, board Chairman David Schoales told the Reformer.

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Szostak said each school in the district would look at its curriculum, books, materials, staffing, hiring practices, policies and procedures, building atmosphere and community engagement as it relates to social justice and anti-racism issues. Annual training would be provided on social justice awareness and racism.

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The proposal also calls for a stronger commitment to recruiting more diverse staff members, looking at whether vendors paid by the district are in line with the values of the district, evaluating the district's remote education from a perspective of how it affects marginalized students, and ensuring each school has a program where students of color can meet to discuss issues and reviewing progress of this work at least once a year.

Steffen Gillom, president of Windham County's National Association Association for Advancement of Colored People, said his group supports the plan and he loves the structural approach.

The board watched a video of Nicole Pereira, a student of color who won second place in the statewide Lincoln Essay Contest while an eighth grader at Brattleboro Area Middle School and is credited with inspiring the proposal.

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"All of our classes revolve around white people," Pereira said in the clip, advocating for the state to require more diverse hiring and training about racism. "If the government takes action, every student will get to learn about the wonderful, talented people of color in history and know that everyone is equally seen and represented."

Simms applauded teachers who have participated in uncomfortable discussions. She asked the board to further examine ways to retain staff of color and from marginalized groups.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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