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Watkinson School

Community letter

July 8, 2020

Dear Watkinson community,
In my six years as head of school, I have not sent two letters to the full school community in such rapid succession. However, the world we live in requires consistent, persistent communication on antiracism in order for accountability to take place, momentum to continue and real change to happen. 
In the last letter, we shared Watkinson’s commitment to: 
  • listen to our people of color
  • have difficult, critical conversations 
  • create a space that is safe for Black students 
  • continue to educate all our students and employees about ways to create an equitable and just school and community.
Since then, a new development has emerged on Instagram where Black students (current &/or alumni) from schools create accounts called “Black at [name of school]”. This practice is growing so rapidly that the NYT did a story on it on June 16th. The intention of these accounts is to elevate the voices of Black students, alumni, employees and past employees. Although these accounts sometimes use the logos, language, and or symbols from their schools, they are not official accounts of the schools they represent. As of June 30th, there is an account on Instagram called “Black at Watkinson”.  
Additionally, at a meeting with school leaders, several current Black students shared their lived experiences at Watkinson in the form of letters read aloud. The desired outcomes from this meeting are reflected in the outline below.
Both the “Black at Watkinson” Instagram account and the students who spoke to school leadership require a public response and assurance, beyond intentions and promises, that Watkinson’s leaders will actively create and sustain an explicitly antiracist culture. We recognize that we must develop and live by antiracist policies, processes, and practices.  
We want to assure you that Watkinson’s leadership is listening to the lived experiences of our Black community members — both the ones shared directly with us and the ones shared via social media. These will not be ignored. As Head of School and President of the Board of Trustees, we want every individual who has endured anti-Black racist speech, actions, or inaction from members of the Watkinson community, including its leadership, faculty, staff, students, and parents, to know that we are sorry that your education has been disrupted and marred, and that these experiences happened in the very place you trusted with your well being. The school’s current leadership, as the representatives of the institution of Watkinson both past and present, is deeply sorry for the experiences conveyed in the testimonies that have been courageously voiced. 
This letter is the beginning of an articulation of the ways we plan to do and be better. Here is an outline of some of the equity and antiracist work we have done and will do to make Watkinson an antiracist institution:
  • Highlighted Equity and Inclusion in Watkinson’s Strategic Plan (May 2016), committing to a plan for ongoing learning and reflection around diversity and equity that aimed at building a more inclusive community 
  • Established Equity and Social Justice Committee to ensure that this work isn’t held by the E&SJ Coordinator alone (2017)
  • Initiated annual school-wide E&SJ Day comprised of student-led workshops and presentations (2018-2020)
  • Hired a Director of Equity and Social Justice (2019-20)
  • The Governance Committee of the Board of Trustees undertook training to understand and advance authentic diversity on our board. (November 2020)
  • Concerted efforts toward broad diversification of Board of Trustees (ongoing)
  • Held successful inter-school summit against anti-Black racism in response to critical incidents that now hopes to impact the HVAL and NEPSAC athletics organizations (September 2019-present)
  • After George Floyd’s murder, held school-wide Community Discussion that happened the day before our commencement (June 2020)

These are our commitments and goals for the 2020-21 school year:

  1. Re-examine our disciplinary procedures and policies.
  2. Develop, communicate, and implement school policies and practices that affirm and protect underrepresented identities.
  3. Continue educational programming and professional development for Board members and school leadership so they can better integrate diverse, equitable, inclusive and antiracist principles into decision making and governance.
  4. Create a strategic plan for racial equity, in order to combat anti-Blackness and white supremacy, change power dynamics, minimize microaggressions, and eliminate macroaggressions.
  5. Adopt an antiracism statement in addition to a nondiscrimination and diversity statement as part of the larger racial equity strategic plan.
  6. Promote empathy and understanding by developing programs, practices and systems to help community members understand the complex interdependence of racism, privilege, and economic systems of oppression in the ongoing history of our institutions.
  7. Hold all community stakeholders accountable for diversity, equity, and inclusion growth and performance within employee and program evaluation systems.
  8. Collaboration among and between school leadership and the Equity and Social Justice Committee in order to identify inequities across campus and determine a pathway for our work going forward. 
We will regularly communicate our progress with this work. As we write this, we are also in the midst of re-imagining what Watkinson will look like and how it will function when we open campus under the current COVID-19 guidelines. The intersection of our antiracism work and re-creating Watkinson during a global pandemic creates an intense, vital work environment on a daily basis. While this work is without precedent in some ways, it also is just the kind of deep thinking, questioning, planning and collaborating that are the hallmarks of a Watkinson education. We are proud to lead Watkinson at this time and eager for the conversations ahead.
On behalf of Watkinson’s leadership, 

Teri Schrader
Head of School

Wendy Avery
President, Board of Trustees

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