Though the chief topic of schools over the past few months has centered around the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, the two public school directors in Williamson County took up another critical issue during a Facebook Live event Thursday night hosted by the Franklin Justice & Equity Coalition.
For about an hour and a half, Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden and Franklin Special School District Director of Schools David Snowden fielded questions related to race, equity, diversity and inclusion in public education. The session was moderated by Courtenay Rogers, a board member of the FJEC and a mother to a seventh grader at Freedom Middle School, and there were also a few questions from Facebook viewers.
Golden and Snowden touched on topics such as textbooks, whitewashing history, recruiting administrators and teachers, discipline, professional development, zoning and, to get things started, antiracism.
“I know that we serve a large portion and a large population of nonwhite students and families,” Rogers said in voicing her first question. “And I feel very strongly that it is our duty to do more than to be not racist, and that’s learning to be antiracists.
“Do we have a plan in place to be antiracist?”
Golden began by pointing out recruitment efforts WCS has in trying to hire people of color for administrative and teaching positions along with others. The district works directly with historically Black universities such as Tennessee State, Fisk and Alabama State, as well as some in Atlanta.
He admitted that WCS still has work to do in hiring enough teachers of color to be proportionate to the percentage of the system’s minority students.
Golden added that antiracism is one of the priorities teachers are asked to focus on in their day-to-day classrooms.
“We emphasize to our teachers that they not let any negative incident that is race-baited in their classroom go by without notifying their administrator,” Golden explained. “We’ve made it a focus to address each one of those incidents to help build a culture.”
Snowden said the FSSD takes a similar approach in making the topic of racism front and center. Before a new school year gets underway, the district’s leadership team meets at a retreat and spends two hours discussing race.
“We can’t just be nonracist, we have to be antiracist if we’re going to move forward,” Snowden said. “I think you do that a lot just by having frank conversations. Don’t wait until something happens to have a conversation about race. We’re encouraging our principals to have those difficult conversations.
“That two-hour discussion was very emotional, there were some tears shed, but people were very grateful to have that opportunity to just dialog about race and what their feelings are. … “We have to have the ability and the wiliness to listen to each other so that we continue to grow.”
One of the questions the two school leaders were asked had to do with whitewashing history, and how textbooks and curriculums can be changed to give a more complete accounting.
“We’re always looking at curriculum,” Snowden said. “Obviously we’re doing a good job, I think during Black History Month and lifting up [achievements], but we have to make sure we’re taking advantage of every opportunity during social studies or whatever course we have to lift up the accomplishments and not whitewash history but to be very real for our students and make sure they understand.
"Our teachers are always looking at opportunities to expand on those standards we’re required to teach. Textbooks are just one resource, and teachers are given flexibility to choose resources to enhance what they will need to teach to be sure we’re meeting the needs of students in our community.”
Golden took the opportunity to discuss the grassroots initiative known as the culture competency committee that was launched a couple of years ago by then-Superintendent Mike Looney.
“We scheduled quarterly meetings open to all in the community to come discuss race,” Golden explained. “We do intend to continue having those quarterly meetings to discuss issues. At every one of those meetings, there has been a broad spectrum of thought shared by the parents.”
Bryant Herbert, pastor of New Birth Seventh-Day Adventist Church and co-founder of the FJEC, suggested that each of the two school districts should consider hiring a person who oversees diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I know there are a lot of young people who want their voice to be heard,” Herbert said as the Facebook Live session ended. … “With this climate right now, I think our young people are understanding the power of their voice and they want to be heard, so I think we have to make sure we’re doing it.
I work closely with the administration, with students and with parents, and I think there are some things that we are doing very well [regarding race relations in schools]. But I think we can also go a little bit further.”
Click here to view the full Facebook Live session.