Friday, July 19, 2024

(Note from Feb. 12, 2024: This letter submitted by Christian Henry of the Graham & Parks School Council was presented Jan. 31 as being from the full council and signed as such with the understanding that the names of the signers were available on the council’s webpage. The post was updated Feb. 1 to show that it came from only a portion of the Graham & Parks School Council: the parents. A request was made Feb. 6 that either the website be updated or the actual signers be identified, and the request was made again Feb. 11. Because there has been no response, it is no longer clear that the letter came from anyone except Henry.)

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As parent representatives on the Graham & Parks School Council, we want to provide information regarding our school leadership and plans to improve our school. We are aware of recent accusations and ongoing investigation regarding the leadership at Graham & Parks. We predict that the district’s investigation will find that our school has adhered to district mandates, and our principal has diligently enforced policies regarding curriculum, scheduling, budget and staffing.

It is important to know that our school has been underperforming for some time. Multiple data sources indicate student performance issues at our school, and we are deeply concerned that approximately 40 percent of the Graham & Parks students are not reading at grade level. Furthermore, data reveals that when it comes to supporting learning among African American students, our school ranks last in the district.

Over the past 18 months, our principal, Kathleen Smith, has openly communicated our collective long-term underperformance and the necessity of reallocating resources to address our highest areas of need. Smith has shown immense fortitude by refusing to let us look away from the stark reality we face as a school.

Changes in our school need to happen. The transition and school improvement plan that our principal, along with the school leadership team, is leading is designed to address these performance issues. The changes are based on evidence, and they will improve the ability of all students to learn. The plan includes new tools and training for our teachers to do that job. Furthermore, a broader cross-section of teachers is already collaborating to track student learning in real time and make quick adjustments when it’s not happening.

This transition was always expected to be very uncomfortable. The Graham & Parks that some argue we should return to never did exist. There is a large majority of teachers and parents who are supportive of the principal, her leadership role and above all the need for changes in outcomes for students. The unified goal is that the student learning that happens here isn’t unfairly distributed, the way it is now.

While some may not appreciate the changes, it is important to understand that the district prioritizes ensuring all students can read and achieve grade-level math proficiency. To break the cycle in which only high-performing students thrive while those struggling continue to struggle, we must take collective action. Changing leadership will not solve the underlying issues; the next administration will face the same challenges. Instead, we need to foster self-awareness as a community and come together to make a difference where it truly matters.

Some see these changes as a threat and have been vocal in trying to divert the conversation onto other topics. Recently, there have been attempts to discredit Smith’s efforts, and those attempts have begun to occur in front of our school children. Along with our schoolchildren, we witnessed a parent openly protest outside our school holding signs to have our principal fired. This caused distress among our elementary-age children.

Upon seeing the signs, many of us have been fielding questions from our children as to why people don’t like their principal; they say they are scared. These are the same children who previously have shared positive comments about their principal. In one example, earlier in the year when Smith sat in on a class, a student from that class later expressed that they wanted to be a principal. Smith is making a positive impact on our students. She greets our children with a beaming smile at the school door regularly, and knows many by name. She also seeks input from us and works closely with us, your parent representatives, on School Council. Along with Smith, we are focused on the well-being of our students and hold their success at the forefront of our school initiatives. We urge parents to collaborate with us.

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to our school’s underperformance any longer. Our esteemed principal has confronted this issue head-on, despite facing resistance from some caregivers. Along with Smith, we are focused on improving the learning happening for all children in our school.

This challenging moment requires respectful and open communication. Let us show our children the power of constructive, collaborative relationships even in times of disagreement. We believe that if we unite and act with integrity, we can make our school a better place for everyone.

Please show up at our School Council meetings, please contact us individually and please don’t take one perspective or story to guide your judgment of the situation. The simplest answer here is that we all need to reinvest, connect, build relationships and work together for our school. Other, more simplistic answers will work against that shared goal.

Let us all reflect on our role in creating the change we seek.