Dear Sherwood Community,
On Thursday, January 28, a comment was made on a Sherwood community Facebook page that included a personal attack toward one of our district’s administrators, and that is something I must address. It’s important to note that in the 11 years that I have had the opportunity to serve as your Superintendent of the Sherwood School District, I have never responded nor reacted to social media — even when the topic of conversation was directed towards me. However, I cannot — and will not — be silent about yesterday’s post and some subsequent responses.
For those of you who do not know what I am referring to, in a Board Work Session on January 20, our Sherwood High School principal, Melissa Baran, shared information with our Board of Directors about conversations taking place in our district around reimagining high school. It is an exciting conversation that our high school staff are having — looking at opportunities that now present themselves in the face of the pandemic and the important lessons we have learned over the last year about how our high school students learn, about the obstacles and challenges that impact student success, about what is — and isn’t — working for students in our current structure, and about identifying areas of growth that can improve outcomes for student learning and well-being.
During that presentation to the Board, Mrs. Baran shared true facts — specifically, that the system of education in general, in its current format, does not work for all students, families, or staff members; that the system of education has a historical context of oppression and white supremacy; and that there is a need to move forward in a way that no longer perpetuates systematic marginalization of underrepresented student groups — and that, with the inherent changes to education we have experienced during the pandemic, we now have the opportunity to dismantle those elements of institutional and systemic racism through an intentional process of reimaging how high school can better serve the needs of students, families, and staff.
In response to Mrs. Baran’s comments in the Board Work Session, a member of our community posted a comment to social media personally attacking Mrs. Baran and taking her comments out of the context in which they were shared with our Board of Directors. That she would be singled-out and talked about in such a horrific manner in the way that took place yesterday is unacceptable. Not only was she sharing what we as a leadership team know to be accurate, but she did so vulnerably — as the only black leader in our district. None of the other (white) participants in the meeting who concurred with and supported the work discussed by Mrs. Baran were singled out in this post, and this fact speaks volumes about the personal motives behind the post.
For the last several years, our district and Board of Directors have been engaging in conversations about equity, inclusion, and becoming an anti-racist organization. We have passed Board resolutions, included equity work in our Strategic Plan, and most recently adopted the recommended policies related to the All Students Belong rule passed by the state Board of Education. Staff and administrators throughout our district have been working to address systematic inequalities in our own organization for many years; the contributions to that work from staff members of color provides valuable, necessary, and highly relevant context to that critical work. The context behind this work in our district was completely ignored in yesterday’s post, making the act of singling out one staff member’s comments on the topic even more blatant in its intention to be inflammatory and personal in nature.
To be clear, this is not about politics, nor is it about freedom of speech — as can often be the culprits people point to when having these conversations. We as a district honor all viewpoints to the extent that they do not promote hate, harassment, racism or discrimination of any kind. We believe that public schools have the ability and moral imperative to promote equity of underrepresented people, without giving equal time to intolerance or personal attacks. Nor is this issue about “offending people” — it is about the health, safety, well-being of the members of color within our school community — and the right of all students to access a quality education without harm. This is about creating an environment within which our students of color and their families — as well as our staff — feel safe and are able to know that they belong, and where our staff of color can speak what is on their minds and hearts without fear of being verbally attacked. All educators and leaders in our district, regardless of race or ethnicity, must be able to speak to the institutional racism that has shaped our systems, without harassment. For any of us to continue to ignore the institutional bias prevalent not only in our own district, but the education system as a whole, is to also ignore the discrimination, harassment, and obstacles to success experienced by our students and staff of color.
As the leader of this district, I stand firm in the belief that ignoring these realities is no longer acceptable, that we have a responsibility to acknowledge and tend to the systematic factors that perpetuate this bias and to ensure our organization can evolve to better serve all — and I am proud of and grateful to the numerous leaders and staff throughout our district who have engaged in that responsibility with commitment and passion.
Our Nation, and certainly our community of late, has taken to social media and various other outlets with a level of emotion, anger, and frustration that is unhealthy. I know Sherwood and the people within it to be caring people. Let’s not resort to name-calling and tearing down others — but rather, what would it look like if, instead, we used those platforms to elevate, to affirm and to appreciate others? To push back on comments steeped in hate? To offer constructive suggestions rather than personal attacks of anyone whose views are different than our own? And — most importantly — to offer support to those members of our community facing unimaginable challenges? To that end, I would like to acknowledge and personally thank the members of our community and staff who chose yesterday to do just that — push back against the attacking post, call out the unfairness of taking information out of context, and show their support for Mrs. Baran.
In closing, I personally support Mrs. Baran as a trusted colleague and leader in our district; she is a strong, caring, brilliant woman who is passionate about the success and well-being of her students. As the Superintendent of the Sherwood School District, I want to make it clear that we are better, as an educational community and also the larger community, with Melissa as a part of it.
Dr. Heather H. Cordie