The following two statements were read at the June 17, 2020 Board of Education Meeting.
Ms. Tracy Frankel, President of the Syosset CSD Board of Education, said the following on behalf of the Board:
We are now living through a time of heightened fear, anxiety and unrest. There is no doubt that the pandemic and isolation has taken an enormous toll on our community, our mental health, our livelihoods and our personal relationships. There is also no doubt that our community, like communities all across the Country, is talking more and more about racism, bigotry and inequalities, whether from a standpoint of personal experience in Syosset or perspectives reached through books, news, education or family discussions.
We are all facing these life changing events together and your School District remains dedicated to fostering a safe, inclusive, accepting and respectful learning environment. The Board of Education’s Mission Statement exemplifies this commitment. We have committed to preparing students to face the evolving challenges in their lifetime in an increasingly diverse society. We have committed to giving our students a sense of safety and belonging, a robust character education program and early intervention to support those who struggle. We assure you that this is a commitment to all of our students, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation or political affiliation.
As we have previously stated, messages of intolerance and hate are not tolerated here. Our work to engage in community building, character building and educating our students regarding civil rights and social justice continues. Our mission statement relays the goal to produce lifelong learners and that extends to all of us. The Board is committed to seeing the entire learning community grow from these experiences.
Statement by Dr. Rogers, Superintendent:
In recent days and weeks, we’ve received a number of messages from current and former students expressing outrage at current race-related tragedies and crimes, but also wishing that their own experience learning about racism at Syosset had been more thorough. Some have also relayed to us heart-wrenching personal experiences of racism and bias that they experienced as a student and the difficulties of standing up and speaking up in our learning community.
Let me be clear: racism, bias, intolerance, and hate have no place in Syosset. Period.
As I said in 2017, “every student – regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or religion – is entitled to attend a school that is warm, welcoming and safe.” We can, and we will, do more.
The 2016-17 year had started out as a high point in the District’s efforts to be inclusive and to recognize and celebrate our growing diversity – we adopted one of Long Island’s first policies to protect transgender students and we became the first Long Island school district to recognize the 4 holidays of Diwali, Lunar New Year, Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha. Sadly, that school year had barely ended when we experienced a horrible racist, anti-Semitic vandalism incident.
In the years since, we redoubled our relationships with local social justice organizations like Erase Racism and the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center and launched a number of significant initiatives:
- All 3 of our secondary schools developed intentional activities to educate students on tolerance and bias to receive recognition as a “No Place for Hate” school by the Anti-Defamation League.
- Syosset students participated in Erase Racism’s Student Task Force and met with administration to share their perspectives on increasing diversity in our teaching force and developing a more culturally responsive curriculum.
- Syosset students launched, and then partnered with Erase Racism to expand their “Breaking Borders” initiative designed to enrich students’ relationships among diverse communities across Long Island.
- Our Deputy Superintendent was part of a task force of the New York State Bar Association that recommended sweeping changes in the approach to school discipline. And Syosset subsequently enacted a new Code of Conduct based on the principles of Restorative Justice.
- We partnered with Nassau BOCES on a diversity hiring initiative designed to broaden the pool of potential candidates for positions in the District and was one of 4 Nassau districts to welcome a bus with potential candidates from a CUNY graduate school of education to tour our schools this January.
- Our Syosset Council of PTAs received a national award for the work of their Cultural Unity committee, which in turn has given the District extensive feedback on how we can better serve our culturally and linguistically diverse community.
But we also know that character education and values development must start young and build over time. In addition to existing programs, we have instituted the following in recent years:
- At our elementary schools, we adopted the Sanford Harmony program and are incorporating restorative community building circles so that all students develop the ability to speak up, listen for empathy, and build strong relationships.
- In our middle schools and in 9th grade, we instituted small group advisories – a research-based practice that uses small groups to build empathetic relationships among students and with staff.
- At the high school, in addition to the extensive resources already in the curriculum, we have intentionally chosen books that address themes of race and racism for grade-wide reading and exploration in class which culminate in a day visiting with the authors known as “book day”.
All of which is not to say that we’ve done enough, but rather to point out that we share these concerns and we have not been idle. Moreover, none of this work would be progressing without the ongoing support and understanding of the Board of Education and I’m appreciative to them for their backing.
We are focused on doing deep, systemic work so that we can make lasting, not superficial change. After sending teams of teachers and administrators to summer conferences addressing issues of racial and ethnic diversity, we presented recommendations to the Board of Education last October and subsequently on January 27, our newly created Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force held its first meeting. The group is engaged in work to continue to build our cultural diversity and competency that exists in Syosset. Subgroups of the task force were created to examine:
- the student experience,
- community outreach,
- hiring practices, and
- curriculum and professional development for staff.
Task force members include District leadership, teachers, parents, community members and members of the Syosset Interfaith Council of Clergy.
Now, to keep its momentum:
- I have asked our coordinators of social studies and English Language Arts to identify age-appropriate areas throughout our curriculum that can be strengthened around topics of current and historical racism, privilege and microaggressions.
- Before school restarts, we will offer training to both faculty and staff on best practices for creating an inclusive environment for a diverse student body.
- We will ask the College Board to strengthen the presentation of these topics in several of the AP courses we teach.
- We will develop additional courses on social justice issues to complement our existing courses in women’s studies, Economics of Inequality, and Social Issues in Literature. And,
- I will institute a student cabinet comprised of the leaders of our Cultural Groups and Social awareness clubs at the secondary schools.
I, for one, am grateful for the messages we received from our former students – they reinforce the direction we have taken, and their experiences underscore why it is more important than ever that we continue.
The action steps I’ve outlined, along with those to come from the Diversity and Inclusivity Task Force, will establish real modifications in aspects of how we work, what we teach and how we truly value one another.