Six years ago, I sent an all-staff message on this national day of reflection and service — when public institutions across the nation are set to idle to honor the profound leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In it, I addressed what I believed to be our greatest challenge - and greatest opportunity — in becoming the premier school system in the state of Oregon: Ensuring equitable access and outcomes for our students of color. Over the course of these preceding six years, our school system — from school equity learning teams, to new family-educator coalItions to the School Board — has engaged in explicit conversations, learning, commitment-making and actions towards closing persistent opportunity gaps for our children of color and others from backgrounds experiencing persistent, historical barriers to school success.
Today, I am reminded that we have made significant progress as a learning community: Our graduation rates and literacy rates are stronger than ever for all student groups; our families from all backgrounds are more engaged through your thoughtful efforts; our post-secondary admission rates for all student groups is higher than ever; and our vocal commitment to all children — from all corners of our school — system is a reminder of our courage to lead for equity in our community. But, we must also admit — and be motivated by the notion — that we are far from Dr. King’s goal of a world free of racism and filled with opportunity. World events over the past few years have affirmed and strengthened my personal commitment to continue to fight for justice for those who have less political capital — and to push open the doors for our students with limited access to tangible resources (as well as limited access to dominant-culture capital).
Woven throughout Dr. King’s speeches and Dr. King’s actions is affirmation of the absolute centrality of education attainment as a powerful and necessary pathway toward achieving racial and economic equality and to realizing, individually and collectively, the American Dream. Absolutely, the work of public educators remains as critical as ever towards fulfilling Dr. King’s dream of racial equality. Here in the Hood River County School District, approximately 50 percent of our kids are students of color. And while each year we are seeing tangible increases in achievement for our student body as a whole, we must continue to accelerate the learning outcomes for our Hispanic students if we are to deliver on our promise to them and their families that we deliver excellence, for every student, every day.
As I reflect on my own professional practice, I know that belief in our students and our staff is necessary, but simply not enough. I must do better to actively engage.
In the creation of culturally affirming learning environments in our schools — environments characterized by physical and psychological safety, predictability, tolerance and sense of true belonging. High levels of learning and achievement — which we all want for our students — are simply not possible for the majority of our kids without first ensuring their primary needs are met in a manner the allows them to sustain their culture and identity.
Clearly, as our recent outcomes suggest, you are making a big difference in the lives of children, and shaping a better community and more decent world. As you finish out this day of reflection, my hope is that tomorrow you will join one another in affirming the belief that, together, we have the will and skill to raise the levels of success for every child in our classrooms.
My sincere thanks for your commitment to one another and to our children and families.
Dan Goldman is Superintendent of Hood River County School District. He issued this letter to district patrons on Monday.