Gill-Montague to talk, hold forums on racial issues

  • Turners Falls High School/Great Falls Middle School —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2019 8:33:38 AM

TURNERS FALLS — Besides the plan to hold upcoming forums, Superintendent Michael Sullivan said Gill-Montague district schools are addressing civil rights harassment violations by implementing several improvements, including teaching divserity and inclusion, same-day communication with parents or guardians and using restorative practices to rebuild community.

Administrative staff provided an update regarding its response to civil rights violations during a recent School Committee meeting, where Sullivan presented a memo he wrote, as well as the secondary school, to the board announcing forums, providing information for people who wish to submit a complaint and identifying areas where the secondary school needs improvements. This has come about as part of the administration’s response to recent complaints about racial incidents.

Sullivan said in a broader context, addressing the civil rights violations at the secondary school is another complex issue.

“Examining the causes of this situation has lead to an awareness of an unhealthy school climate at the secondary level. It’s like an onion, there’s layers to this work, and the more we peel away, the more we see there’s a lot to be done,” Sullivan said. “It’s serious work. It includes responding to incidents of civil rights harassment, consistent use of an agreed-upon approach to responding to disciplinary offenses ..., teaching for diversity, equity and social justice — I’ve been talking to lots of different providers about who might help us build on work we’ve already been doing.”

School Committee member Mike Langknecht said he thinks the elementary schools should also use methods like responsive classrooms to be able to prevent issues in the future.

“A similar concentration on responsive classrooms, so this work is going on all along, before they get to the middle school or high school would be an important component of this work,” Langknecht said.

Erving repersentative Theresa Kolodziej said she believes there should be a timeline to be able to reassure people in the community, as well as the students, that the matter is being addressed with a sense of urgency.

“I think there needs to be time component that will reassure students and the public, in general, that we’re aware that kids only get one freshmen year, one sophomore year, one junior year — that we can’t take a long time to do these kinds of things at their expense,” Kolodziej said. “We’re aware of how this impacts their junior year, and we’re doing this with all deliberate speed.”

Sullivan said he agreed with Kolodziej.

“There have been things reenforced with students at meetings — some is capacity and clarity and a lot is dialogue that needs to happen among staff,” Sullivan said.

A memo from Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School Principal Annie Leonard and Vice Principal Kathi Smith was also presented to the School Committee.

Some areas of needed improvement addressed in the memo were strengthening the high school advisory program, improved same-day communication with parents or guardians and using restorative practices to rebuild community.

“The existing system is functional, but needs improvement, not only in areas identified in this memo, but also in some areas that go beyond the scope of this memo,” according to the memo. “Such as, training for all staff in recognizing and interrupting bias-related aggressions and micro-aggressions, and delivering a culturally proficient educational response, not just to perpetrators, but also to witnesses.”

Sullivan also informed the board about upcoming forums for students, faculty, staff and parents and guardians.

There will be a forum on Jan. 30 at 3:30 p.m. for employees throughout the district — all employees are invited. In addition, there will be two forums for middle and high school students during the school day on Jan. 30.

Keisha Green and Safire DeJong from the Collaborative for Educational Services were invited by Gill-Montague Regional School District to gather information about the equity and civil rights issues that students, family and guardians and staff have experienced within the schools.

Following the forums, Green and DeJong will “use the information that is gathered to develop plans for transforming those issues in the schools.”


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