November 21, 2017
Core Values in Portsmouth Schools
Over the last few weeks we have met with groups of parents, staff, and students to engage in a discussion about how we as a school system celebrate diversity and address any incidents where students, families or staff do not feel welcome in our school community. These conversations were enlightening and we felt it would be important to share reflections on these with our community to continue to raise awareness to the roles we all play in establishing a truly inclusive school community that values diversity as a strength.
One of the purposes of these discussions was to share the intentional actions already taken by many to celebrate the diversity in our community. These range from elements of our elementary Open Circle curriculum to units set aside on immigration and civil rights, to events such as World Awareness Week or student groups such as the Multicultural Student Alliance or the Gay Transgender Straight Alliance (GTSA). In many less formal ways people spoke about a culture of acceptance and feeling welcomed, as well as dedicated support from our English as a Second Language (ESOL) staff.
A common theme in all groups was the recognition of the importance of being ever more intentional about nurturing a culture that is truly inclusive and celebrates diversity. Many brought up a sense that these issues are as timely as ever and the fear that divisions among us are becoming more prominent than connections between us. Some spoke of specific incidents where students were using racially charged language or showing intolerance of each other. There was acknowledgement that we as a community still need to grow in our recognition, acceptance, and celebration of diversity. Interestingly, we asked groups of students to come to a consensus on rating the culture at PHS on a scale of 1 to 10 for how accepting the culture is at PHS of ALL students regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender orientation, family income, or any other student differences. The scores ranged from 3 to 8 with most landing at about a 6. Much of the discussion focused on an overall culture of acceptance, but an absence of interest on the part of some in celebrating diversity and words of intolerance on the part of some.
A key element in these conversations was to brainstorm some possible next steps. One general theme was finding ways through imagery and messaging to celebrate the diversity in our schools. Another was adding more intentional curriculum or program components and also making sure students were involved in all aspects of these issues. As we reflected on all of the conversations we felt a concrete next step could be to engage groups in creating a statement of values our system holds that can guide our communication and actions. This can be a simple answer to the question what do we stand for and how do we act in alignment with that?
Knowing that getting groups together over the next month and a half is tricky at best, we would like to start this conversation with a brief open ended survey (below). We hope this will help us gather information from a broad cross-section of our community and we will compile the results to use in follow-up round table conversations beginning in January. We appreciate your continued engagement with these issues and look forward to continuing our collective efforts. Thank you for your time and your continued support of the Portsmouth School District.
Steve and George