Dear Uncommon Schools Community,
A few weeks ago, after we chose to close Uncommon Schools for a day to allow our community to process in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, I wrote an essay about how our charter school network was founded to battle racism and advance social justice. Since writing that piece, I have thought a lot about our mission to support the next generation of changemakers who will not just learn how to navigate systems that were not created for them, but who will disrupt those systems and forge a new future.
One of the things that I always say is that we as educators must truly see our kids. We must see their individualism, their brilliance, and their future potential. We must create schools and educational experiences where students thrive, families and communities experience us in deep partnership, and teachers, leaders, and staff feel valued and excited about their work. This is what my fellow leaders and I have always strived to do, and this is what has guided our evolution over time.
I write to you as a Black woman who has been in education for 25 years. I joined Uncommon in 1998 as I was finishing up my third year of teaching in Paterson, NJ. I learned about a new public school in Newark, NJ that was committed to fighting injustice through education, and immediately knew that this was my mission. As the years progressed, it became even more clear to me that students learn best when they feel safe, loved, and cared for, and I firmly believe in our team of dedicated educators who provide that support day in and day out.
I have been reading and reflecting on feedback about our schools, including accounts of negative experiences. I am humbled by what I have heard because these experiences do not reflect the community we set out to create. Upon reflection, I know that we still have a long way to go to truly fulfill our mission, and in order to do so, we must resolve and work to be an anti-racist organization.
OUR DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION ACTION PLAN
This summer, we will be taking systematic steps to further embed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our work and throughout our organization. Some of our immediate steps include:
- We will hire Promise54, a nationally-recognized DEI expert, to analyze organization-level change and impact, with an internal DEI audit of our school policies, systems and discipline practices.
- We will review our curriculum in all grades K-12 to ensure it is culturally responsive and prepares students to be future changemakers.
- We will hold meetings with alumni, either in person or virtual, to hear about their experiences and discuss how it will shape our work moving forward.
- We will establish a parent advisory group when we are back to school that will provide direct thought partnership and feedback to our organizational leaders.
- We will create DEI teams in each school to work alongside our Uncommon DEI team in order to ensure that conversations with staff, parents, and students and DEI work continue throughout the year.
- We will hold staff-wide DEI professional development to ensure we amplify all voices and that every Uncommon school and office culture is one where all students and staff feel respected, valued, and cared for. This will enable us all to continue to build our skills around DEI, act on those convictions, and be held to a standard of accountability.
- We will be reporting back to you on the progress we are making on these action steps in the coming weeks and months.
LISTENING LEADS TO CHANGE
At the heart of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan is listening. We want to be purposeful in our listening as well as thoughtful, deliberate, and inclusive of many voices in identifying the right course of action. We will execute a comprehensive community outreach plan to be sure we are hearing from all parts of our community —teachers, staff, students, families, and alumni. We want to hear about your experience at Uncommon, both in terms of what has worked and where we can do better.
For us to move forward, we must reflect on our successes and mistakes, identify needed changes to our systems and practices, and hold ourselves accountable for making those changes. We feel urgency to not just listen but to act quickly —and we will be ready for the start of summer staff professional development and the new school year. We will listen first and commit to making the necessary changes to our systems and practices to ensure our students and staff continually and consistently thrive. Those changes will be felt on all 55 campuses, and we will be transparent and accountable to the entire Uncommon community in reporting on what we have learned, what we have done, the progress we have made, and our next phase of action.
While returning to school during the pandemic presents incredible challenges for our community, implementing our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan is an equal priority this summer. I am eager to continue conversations with you that will inform our plans and I will be updating you along the way, as well as reporting back formally later this fall.
I sincerely believe that our community will grow stronger from this moment in time. I speak for Uncommon’s leadership in saying that we are all dedicated to moving urgently on the things we can and must improve, while staying fervently true to our mission and belief in the significant good that happens in our classrooms and schools every single day. We are proud of the students and families who have chosen us, the staff who have chosen to work with us, and the alums who are making their mark on the world. We are deeply committed to doing everything possible in the days, weeks, and months to come to fulfill our mission of being an organization that combats racism, fights for social justice, and is fully rooted in love, respect, safety, and learning.
President, Uncommon Schools