July 14, 2021
Dear Watkinson Community,
Summer can be a wonderfully productive time for schools, providing us with the opportunity to both take stock of the year that just was, while simultaneously gearing up for the year to come. While this letter will apprise you of the work that has taken place since March towards Watkinson becoming a move inclusive and anti-racist institution, it begins with an announcement.
I am thrilled to share that Courtney Massenberg is Watkinson’s new Director of Community, Equity and Inclusion. Courtney comes to Watkinson by way of New York City, where she began her career in education as an elementary school teacher for the NYC Department of Education, the largest and most diverse school system in the United States. After teaching in multiple grades and districts, she went on to serve in various roles including city-wide K-8 teacher evaluator, district-wide principal coach, and founding principal of a creative arts middle school. During this time, she also earned her master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, as well as two administrative certifications.
Almost 20 years later, Courtney returns to Connecticut where she was raised and educated in independent schools. Not only did she attend Renbrook School in West Hartford and graduate from the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Connecticut, she is also the proud sibling of a Watkinson alum, Class of 2000.
About coming to Watkinson, Courtney says, “Throughout my career in education, I’ve leveraged my diverse experiences to engage teachers, and school and district leaders in powerful conversations about how to reduce race, gender, socioeconomic, and other barriers to learning as well as promote an inclusive environment where all are proud to belong. I look forward to continuing this important work at Watkinson and am thrilled to be a new member of the community.”
Courtney distinguished herself throughout our search process by her thoroughness and thoughtfulness in not only responding to the many questions posed by the search team and the dozens of community members who took part in the interviews, but also by generating her own questions about our school and community. In this way, Courtney’s interviews were much more like dialogues and conversations than a one-way process of asking questions of a candidate. The richness of those conversations was unparalleled, noted, and particularly meaningful as we had the rare ability to gain a sense of Courtney’s approach to the work of deepening and expanding our commitment to inclusion and belonging. I am so very pleased to welcome Courtney as she begins at Watkinson as a member of Senior Leadership.
Looking back on some other important work from this spring, I am happy to share that despite the challenges we faced with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on virtually everything, we were able to continue and sustain our commitment to our deep examination of the academic program. The dual goals of examining curriculum and being an ever more inclusive community have been intertwined over the past four years, with this year’s goal being to complete the redesign process of a full slate of electives offered in English and History. These courses, developed over the last two years (English in 2019-20, History in 2020-21) as part of our five-year Strategic Plan, signal our longstanding commitment to expanding and deepening our students’ awareness and understanding of diverse voices and perspectives.
This past April marked an important shift in Watkinson’s professional learning and anti-racism work, as we moved from small teams working together to strengthen understanding and inform professional practice, to school-wide learning sessions taking place for all employees. This began with Dr. Martha Brackeen-Harris leading three trainings on implicit bias, first for senior leadership, then for program and department heads, and lastly at an April Professional Learning Day for the full faculty and staff. Also taking place in April, 14 members of the school community (including members of Senior Leadership, the ESJ Committee, the Board of Trustees, faculty, students, and alumni) attended a day-long conference hosted by Westover School, “A Culture of Belonging: A Pollyanna Interschool Conference”. Watkinson was one of more than a dozen schools to participate in the conference, which featured a keynote address by Dr. Bettina Love. Finally, throughout May and June, all employees engaged in five one-hour virtual professional learning sessions. BIPOC employees worked with Dr. Martha Brackeen-Harris and white employees worked with Pollyanna Inc. using their “Showing Up, Standing Up: A Journey Toward Anti-Racism” curriculum.
As of now, we have completed two of the three currently-identified elements of our work with Pollyanna Inc. The third is our intra-school conference; Watkinson’s first Day of Community & Belonging for ALL students, alumni, employees, parents, and alumni parents will take place on Saturday, October 23, 2021. It will be a virtual day of connections and planning for the work we will do in the future. I do hope you will make plans to join us.
It is our hope and intention that we will be able to throw open the doors of our school at the end of August to welcome students, families, colleagues, and our extended community to campus. I look forward to the possibilities the coming year brings, to the learning we will do, and to the power of working together to make this new year exciting, meaningful, and productive.
All my best,
Head of School
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