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Important Message from Superintendent Pero

September 5, 2020

Dear Parents/Guardians and Staff,

The topic of racism can be contentious and is often exasperated by social media, making many afraid to even broach the subject. It seems that, no matter your perspective, profession, or even one’s political affiliation, there can be a fear of making a mistake that offends and results in feeling paralyzed. For PCSD right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, a combative presidential election, protests and riots, it would certainly be easier and safer to avoid this topic altogether. However, whether we choose to talk about it or not, racism is here, it is in front of us and, if we avoid it, it will perpetuate. We choose to address it head on.

It is with a very heavy heart that we must acknowledge another tragic and traumatic event that further divides us and heightens racial tensions throughout our community. In addition to racial tensions and trauma brought about by the tragic death of Daniel Prude, this devastating situation highlights the difficulties and lack of resources our community has to respond to mental health emergencies. Learning about this event months after it happened further erodes trust in the systems that should be informing and protecting all members of our community. Our hearts go out to Daniel Prude’s family along with others who are impacted by this tragedy.

You have seen in all of my updates how we plan to keep our District as safe as possible from the pandemic, yet we also have to keep our schools free of racism and bigotry of all kinds so kids feel safe coming to school. As I entered this profession, I never thought that I would be managing the ramifications of a global pandemic or racial injustice, let alone at the same time. And especially not in the year 2020.

While treatments or a cure for the pandemic are out of my control, there are things we can do to mitigate it and keep our students as safe as possible. In the same way we need to keep our students safe from acts of racism. This is something that needs to be eliminated immediately – there is absolutely no room for this in our schools – ever.

We’ve been working on this problem for several years now, and as we enter the 2020-2021 school year, our plans to address racism and equity for all include the following:

  • Continue with Professional Development for ALL staff: This summer we doubled the occupancy for professional development in courses: Cultural Competency in the Classroom, Improving Social, Emotional and Academic Outcomes for Students of Color, Macroaggressions – What are they and how do I respond to them. Close to 250 staff members attended these. We will continue to offer robust courses throughout the school year.

  • As part of the commitment made by all area Superintendents to develop curriculum specific to the history and impacts of racism in our local community, PCSD is participating in the collaborative work led by BOCES and the University of Rochester on the writing and piloting of lessons for eighth and eleventh grade U.S. History classes. These standards-aligned inquiries will address local issues like “red lining,” which refers to local, state and federal housing policies beginning in the 1930s that mandated segregation and the Federal Housing Administration’s refusal to issue mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods.

  • We have identified units of study that lend themselves to engaging students more purposefully with historical documents representing diverse perspectives, social justice, and civic-mindedness. 

  • This summer, U.S. History teachers for grades 7, 8, and 11 reviewed current textbook resources through the lens of diverse representation and identified new resources that will be used to supplement, or replace, existing texts.

  • New text selections for English classes have been made to provide additional opportunities for all students to see themselves represented in those texts while also having a window into the lives of others.

  • As all 12th grade English courses have been revised to become full-year courses, teachers took the opportunity to incorporate diverse texts throughout all of the offerings. In addition, an entirely new course “English 12: Visibility” was developed and focuses on investigating race, class, ability, and gender in language and literature.

  • As part of our Elementary Social Studies Curriculum we have established a series of common experiences based on well-respected teacher resources to ensure that all K-5 students have experiences related to social justice, diverse viewpoints, and civic action embedded throughout their learning.

  • Our librarians completed a monumental (and national award winning) library resource audit that included reviewing each of the 25,000 books in our school libraries for multiple characteristics related to diversity including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, culture, religion, neurodiversity, and gender identity of the author, main characters, and supporting characters in the book. This year our focus will be on sustaining, ordering, displaying and promoting these materials for classroom use.

  • Our Board of Education adopted revisions to these Board Policies to include requirements that all instructional materials and textbooks reflect the District’s commitment to inclusivity and culturally responsive practices:

    • 8310 Purposes of Instructional Materials
    • 8340 Instructional Materials & Textbook Adoptions

  • Our Board of Education has an important goal this school year to write and adopt an Equity Policy that commits to equity and excellence for every student. This commitment would mean that student success will not be predicted based on race, ethnicity, color, religion, national origin, immigration status, language, family economics, age, culture, geographic location, mobility, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, or initial proficiencies. Equity and excellence in education is about inclusivity and social justice and goes beyond formal equality where all students are treated the same. Instead, educational equity and excellence fosters a barrier-free environment in which all students have the opportunity to benefit equally. Equity and excellence is achieved when there is sufficient evidence that each child has a high-quality educational experience and outcomes and successes are not predicted by student subgroup membership. 

  • Although we recently completed a major revision to our Code of Conduct that was adopted by the Board of Education, we plan to continue the work on this guiding document by reconstituting our standing committee with newly identified student members, and by allocating funds to support further collaboration with Partners in Restorative Initiatives (PIRI) and the Children’s Institute. 

  • Over the course of the last three years, we have focused on developing a greater pool of certificated people of color. It is widely documented that people of color have traditionally been underrepresented in education. We understand the value of having a diverse professional staff. This brings additional perspectives to our work and allows our students to see themselves in leadership positions and to see those that do not look like them in leadership positions. These efforts have resulted in the hiring of multiple highly qualified teachers and other professional people of color each year for the past three years, creating more diversity among our professional staff. We will continue and redouble our recruiting efforts to hire well qualified people of color. 

  • New Dignity for all Students Act (DASA) materials have been developed in collaboration with the PTSA. Next steps include parent and student education about accessing these services and reporting issues.

In addition to these initiatives, and others, the District also plans to continue the work we’ve undertaken with Natalie McGee of the now defunct Generation Ready. Ms. McGee was the key course developer and curriculum writer for Generation Ready. At this point, we are working with other local school districts to develop a cross-contract hosted by BOCES that will reduce the local cost of these services by providing a reimbursement of services. Once this is solidified, Ms. McGee will be contracted for both virtual and in-person events at PCSD including:

Virtual Activities

Equity Action Plan

Ms. McGee will assist in structuring the school’s Equity Action Plan to implement a site-based vision of an equitable school environment. The Equity Action Plan will amplify the diversity, equity, and inclusivity knowledge obtained through the Equity Institute Training sessions.

In-Person Activities

K-5 Learning Walks

These events consist of a comprehensive look at each school to assess that the school environment is one that lends itself to equal opportunities for all students and parents. During these walks, Ms. McGee will look at the school environment, examine data (achievement, suspensions, referrals, AP class student selection, etc.), and visit classrooms to determine if the environment is one that is conducive to the success of all students. She also will review discipline policies, communication to parents (language translation), and school procedures for consistency, inclusivity, and equity. Follow up will include reviewing these reports and identifying key areas for improvements for each of our five elementary schools.

We have students in our schools who feel unsafe. I won’t stand for it and I know this community will not stand for it either. Let’s work together to eliminate behaviors that make our students feel unsafe. Let’s talk about it so this will not perpetuate. Let’s address this head on – as a community.

The school district takes equity and full inclusion (in every sense of the word) very seriously. Our schools need to be a safe place for all. As a parent/guardian, please talk with your child and discuss the importance of treating their peers with respect and kindness as we enter this school year. I thank you for partnering with us to make our schools a safe and happy place for all of our students.  It will take all of us, working as one community to make the change needed for equity for all.

Sincerely,

Michael Pero, Superintendent of Schools