School officials said they heard the parents and community members loud and clear at a recent forum held in response to the report by a Watertown Middle School student the she had been racially harassed at school and online. This week, School administration and the School Committee announced some steps they would be taking to stop this from happening again.
On Monday, Superintendent Dede Galdston acknowledged that the Watertown Public Schools have much work to do.
“I think we share the same goals which include making the Watertown Schools the safest, most welcoming and most inclusive learning environment for all our students and families,” Galdston said. “They and you deserve nothing less.”
A few years ago, the District help start the Anti-Bias Coalition, which includes members of the public. Galdston said she will include parents in district’s Equity Leaders team to “help actualize its four goals.” The goals are:
- Evaluating and implementing an inclusive, anti-racist and anti-bias curriculum
- Hiring and maintaining a diverse faculty and staff
- Provide in depth professional training for our staff on anti-racist and bias
- Creating safe and supportive and welcoming learning environment for our children of color
Galdston will also be creating a parent advisory council made up of parents and caregivers of color and focusing on diversity, anti-racism, equity and inclusiveness.
“I commit to meet with the group at least once a month, if not more — and I anticipate it being more — through the end of the school year and likely beyond for many years to come,” Galdston said.
The council led by the parent parents, Galdston said.
“I will attend, I will listen, I will ask questions of the (council) and I will answer questions they have,” Galdston said. “I want the parents to lead the effort and set the agenda for these meetings. That’s a way to give space and voice to our families who I think really wanted to have it, from what I heard (on Dec. 3).”
An addition to the School Administration will be a districtwide roll of diversity, equity and inclusion, Galdston said.
“The person will be an integral part of our leadership team and will facilitate ongoing equity and anti-racism efforts for students, staff and the larger community,” Galdston said.
The position will be posted in January.
During the community forum, several people said they did not like that the District had hired a consultant to review the district’s policies and procedures in the wake of the report of racial harassment. Some also said they did not like the particular choice of consultants, both of whom are not people of color and one is a former police officer.
Galdston said she believes the external review is necessary, but said she will continue to look at how best to do it.
“I stress this one report is not the solution. It is one report and it will not end racism in Watertown, however I do believe it is one step in the right direction in that we need to fully and completely understand what has happened and committed to open our policies and procedures to external review to see where we may need to improve,” Galdston said. “I understand and acknowledge there are concerns about the consultant I selected, and as such I will continue to consider how best to conduct the external review of the incidents that were brought to our attention as well as our policies and procedures.”
Galdston will host two virtual Superintendent’s Coffees on Dec. 22 at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and invited anyone to speak with her further about those and any other issues they might have. She also plans to have more public forums on racism and bullying in January.
School Committee Policies
School Committee Chair John Portz said he and others on the board heard the emotions and frustrations of those who spoke during the Dec. 3 forum. He encouraged the whole community to get involved as the Schools examines its policies.
“As the last six months across this country has so clearly reminded us bias and racial injustice are systemic in our society,” Portz said. “We have many strengths in our community, and across the nation, but much work to do on the path toward social justice. Our schools play a key role, but we need the support and help of parents and others in the community.”
The School Committee’s Policy Subcommittee will meet on Dec. 15, at 5 p.m., to continue discussions of anti-bullying and discrimination procedures. The meeting will be held on Zoom, click here for info on how to join.
Subcommittee Chair Lily Rayman-Read apologized to the Watertown Middle School student who reported the harassment, and others.
“Any student who has felt and who is feeling unsafe in our schools, it is a failure all of our parts, and mine included, and that’s unacceptable,” Rayman-Read said.
She added that the School Committee will include parents when making decisions about the district’s policies. A new community advisory board for policy subcommittee will be created, Rayman-Read said.
“I hope the community comes out and talks to us about our policies and gets involved,” Rayman-Read said. “The more voices we hear, the stronger we become as a community.”