By Ellen Ben-Naim
President, Los Alamos School Board
Superintendent, Los Alamos Public Schools
Dear Staff, Parents and Families,
The tragic death of George Floyd and the events that have unfolded are a heartbreaking reminder of the deep-rooted systemic racism and polarization in our country.
We have struggled to find words to express our grief as our hearts ache for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others. We also grieve for all those who may have seen a reflection of their own life experience in that traumatic video footage.
This message is a commitment to help channel the collective and justifiable anger and grief into meaningful anti-racist change and education. In some cases, the collective energy includes questions and a desire to learn about the meaning of racism.
We have already begun to discuss the experiences of our students and staff, and the injustices and indignities some have endured simply because of the color of their skin or their background. We are passionately committed to social justice. This requires respectful and safe spaces for meaningful dialogue that includes the examination of our own deep-seated conscious and subconscious biases. And that is only the beginning.
The Los Alamos Public Schools is a place to convene, study, discuss and act upon the most urgent challenges of our day. This solutions-oriented approach has led and can lead to healing, social change and improvements in our professional development for staff and curriculum materials for students. We are committed to engage in the anti-racism work necessary to create change in our schools. To start, LAPS students have organized and held two peaceful protests and a third is being planned for noon today.
In addition, we will work with students to create more meaningful and educational spaces this summer and beyond for our community to acknowledge, process and work through the emotions affecting so many of us. We also plan to review and adopt new learning materials for staff and expand training about the Safe and Civil Schools Framework.
When school starts in the fall, our Equity Council will be asked to gather a panel of students, parents and staff to discuss issues of racism and violence with a focus on what we can do in the Los Alamos Public Schools. Racial justice means not only effectively teaching students of all backgrounds, but also respecting and affirming language, culture, history and traditions.
We’ve spoken with so many people over the last few weeks – including parents, staff, students and our own family and friends. While there is much justifiable anger, tension and fear, we are also hopeful that our country is in the midst of an awakening. This can be the moment that propels us to lasting social change. We believe we can make real and substantive progress if we listen to one another, acknowledge the part we each play in maintaining systems of oppression, and make an honest commitment to take action toward a more equitable and just society.
A concern for social justice means looking critically at why and how our schools are unjust for some students. It means that we need to analyze school policies and practices that devalue the identities of some students while overvaluing others: the curriculum, testing, textbooks and materials, instructional strategies, the recruitment and hiring of staff and parent involvement strategies. All of these need to be viewed with an eye toward making them more equitable for all students, not just those students who happen to be white, middle class and English speaking.
We want our families to know that we care about them and stand with those who are hurting at this time. We have an unwavering commitment to racial equity and inclusive excellence for all students. We invite each of you to join us in modeling the future we want for our students. In the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”