New School Director Begins Work to Make Watertown Schools More Equitable and Inclusive

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Dr. Kimberlee Henry, the Watertown Public School’s Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

In her first few months in the Watertown Public Schools, the new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has met with a wide range of people in town to become familiar with the school district and the community, and to build relationships with other departments and organizations in Watertown.

The district created the new position in response to reports of students who had experienced racial bias and/or bullying in the Watertown Schools. One such incident was reported on by a local TV news station. The Watertown Schools have hired an outside group to conduct an equity audit, and hired Dr. Kimberlee Henry as the first Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Superintendent Dede Galdston said Watertown, and Henry in particular, has taken on the issues of equity and inclusion in a way that has not been seen in many other communities in Massachusetts.

“This is a new role for Watertown, a new role across the state,” Galdston said. “We are forging together to figure out how this works in Watertown, because there really isn’t a blueprint,” Galdston said. “I appreciate Dr. Henry stepping in.”

Henry officially started working in Watertown on July 1, and Tuesday night she told the School Committee it has been a whirlwind since she signed the contract with the WPS. She has spent much of her first few months meeting with a wide range of people in town.

“Students have stepped up to have conversations, members of the community whose children have already gone through and graduated, whose grandchildren have come through the system,” Henry said. “Really a wide range of experiences have been shared. In all of those conversations there have been very positive things and in many of them there have been some very difficult things to hear and manage.”

She added that Galdston has been supportive of her work, which requires “having difficult conversations about ourselves and about each other.”

“Being a new person, it is hard to say to your boss, ‘I heard something today, are you sure you want to hear it?'” Henry said. “She has been able to take in the concerns, process them with me, and try to come up with actionable steps.”

Some of the people she has met with include teachers and staff, who are eager and willing to work with her, Henry said. She has received questions not only about how to engage in the classrooms but also as a coach on the athletic fields and spaces.

Henry said she does not see a need to totally get rid of the curriculum and put in a new one, for instance, but make adjustments.

“We should be including varying perspectives in our lessons, so I am not asking anyone to overhaul their lessons. You could simply add a perspective to what you are doing,” Henry said.

One challenge that Henry said she has identified is that some groups do not have a good support system.

“We have some decent supports for (English Language Learner) students, but in terms of families of color and students of color, the supports are few and far between,” Henry said.

The Watertown Schools also seeks to find a way to make the teacher staff and school employees more diverse. Henry is working with the director of Human Resources on strategies for posting positions and recruiting candidates.

Henry has also started to build relationships with other departments in Watertown.

“I have been working with the Police Department to try to strengthen our relations across departments and begin to think about what other community agencies and organizations can be a benefit to our students as we go through the equity audit,” Henry said.

Another part of the Equity Audit, which is being led by the Public Consulting Group, will be listening sessions for various groups in the district and community, including students, parents, and staff.

“I really look forward to people having the opportunity to share their perspectives in a confidential way and I really ask people to be open and honest in those forums so we can have as much understanding and information collected so we can have a strategic plan with our equity work moving forward,” Henry said.

The effort will be a long one, Henry told the School Committee, and she said it is important not to get discouraged.

“We are in it together. We can falter, we can make mistakes,” Henry said. “But the point is we need to try. Even if we trip along the way, we need to make the necessary steps for kids and for families. And then ongoing, we need to find ways to celebrate the small wins, in addition to the drawn out process, because systemic change takes time, but every step is so valuable and necessary.”

School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley said Henry has an important role.

“While this is work for everyone it is really important that you are there to lead and guide,” Foley said. “It gives it direction. It gives it form. I appreciate the efforts. I appreciate the vision.” 

School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said she is eager to see how Henry’s work progresses.

“I am really excited that so much attention is being given to work that needs to be done in the district,” Mosca said. “I appreciate how you laid out a plan. I feel it is a clear path — how the work is going to develop in the district.”

School Committee member Amy Donohue said she is looking forward to meeting with Henry, and said she is thrilled to hear that staff and even coaches have reached out to her.

“It is very important across the whole district for people to feel comfortable speaking with you. And I like how you identified that it is important to celebrate small wins,” Donohue said. “We have a lot of work to do, and identifying that we are making progress is important.”

Dr. Kimberlee Henry can be reached at kimberlee.henry@watertown.k12.ma.us or 617-926-7700

10 thoughts on “New School Director Begins Work to Make Watertown Schools More Equitable and Inclusive

  1. Best wishes to Ms. Henry.

    But I think that a lot of this is “politically correct” double-talk about tolerance, diversity, equity and a lot of other nonsense terms that mean absolutely nothing as a practical matter.

    Aside from a few unfortunate but minor incidents in the past, what exactly are we trying to achieve? Perfection? No one knows. It’s an endless, fruitless quest.

    The notion that Watertown schools need “equity” and are filled with raging racists is a myth.

    An especially pernicious idea is that children can learn only if they have a teacher that is the “same color” or “look like them.”

    But in order to justify all this expenditure of time, energy, and money they’ll have to find something wrong with the system, students, and parents and “correct it.”

    • I’ve never heard a soul complain that Watertown is “filled with raging racists”. This is the kind of myth and fear that opponents of equity and inclusion trade in.

    • Re: “An especially pernicious idea is that children can learn only if they have a teacher that is the “same color” or “look like them.”

      Webster’s Dictionary defines the word only as a single fact or instance and nothing more or different.

      It would be illogical and irrational for me to say, absolutely no one says this, but I can definitely say in my experience as an educator of color, I don’t believe and have never heard this idea.

      I can however say that in my experience as an educator of color, who has taught students of all ethnicities for over 30 years, that students of all ethnicities absolutely learn from educators not their same color and who do not look like them.

      It has also been my experience (and reputable research, studies, peer reviewed journals etc. have confirmed) that students absolutely benefit from having a teacher of their same ethnicity and who looks like them.

      In fact studies have also shown that all students regardless of their ethnicity benefit from having a diverse faculty at their schools. I can attest to that personally from having experienced Bedford Public Schools as a METCO student (1st-6th grade) and Boston Public Schools (5th-12th grade)

  2. This position just adds to the education costs. I have not heard of any specific problems in the schools except for the one that was mentioned a couple of years ago, and I’m not sure that was an issue of race. Kids have conflicts because of personalities and other teen issues. We always seem to default to race issues now as part of almost every problem, which is dividing us. I had friends of color in college and in work places and I maintain those friendships today. We didn’t have to be taught to respect everyone. We respected our police, teachers and other leaders in our community as well as our peers. To get respect you have to give respect. By stressing race all the time, we are continuing to create divides. I hope this new person does not push CRT in the Watertown schools. I would prefer for her to be there to resolve any possible problems and have programs to teach true tolerance for everyone.

    • So a nameless person uses this hiring decision to claim its a waste because THEY have friends of colors and had no problems. They don’t want to talk about race because it upset things. And they raise the boogeyman of CRT. Could there be a better argument for the need for Dr. Henry?

  3. Oh please.

    You people act as if Watertown schools were some kind of plantation era nightmare.

    Watertown has been one of the most inclusive and inviting towns on the entire planet. This job is a meaningless and unnecessary waste of money that could be going toward the kids.

    • And you act like we still live in the 1950s.

      Stop denying the reality of the world we live in. Watertown is a wonderful community and we want to keep it that way, in spite of people who think as you do.

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