Kate Keese of Brentwood didn’t mince words when she joined four other parents to speak on the issue of cultural sensitivity during the most recent Williamson County Board of Education meeting.
The mother of two students in the Williamson County Schools district, one at Brentwood High School and another at Brentwood Middle, Keese said the district needs to take action immediately to form a parent advisory committee to help tackle ongoing concerns of racism and inequities throughout schools across the county.
“I ask that you form a parent advisory committee for diversification and inclusion before the next meeting of this board, preferably this week,” Keese said by Zoom to board members and WCS staff at Tuesday’s January meeting.
“Racism is not just about using derogatory language,” Keese, who is white, added. “Racism is about failing to see the humanity of a people. The wounds of racism do not belong only to people of color. All of us are wounded by denying the humanity of many. We cannot ignore the existence of racism and we cannot consider ourselves to have educated our children if we have not begun to speak this truth with them.”
“A parent advisory committee will help guide us on a journey to see in plain sight that to which we may have been blind. Let that committee guide us to help us find the best way forward.”
Other speakers echoed Keese’s sentiments and her urgency, but WCS Superintendent Jason Golden indicated later that an advisory committee is not what the situation needs at this time. He and others on staff have been vetting professional firms that would provide adequate resources for a long-term solution. He was short on specifics and didn’t name a particular consulting group, but said he would present a proposal at the February school board meeting.
“If we’re going to make a sustainable change, I’ve become convinced, based on all of our stakeholders’ feedback, that we need … professional, skilled help,” Golden said.
“There may be some time for a particular committee, but after hearing from so many stakeholders, the idea of just appointing a few and turning down others is a real concern of mine.
“If we’re going to do this right, we need professionals who have experience growing our communities. I think that’s the most appropriate step rather than responding or reacting to a particular request, to have something that might make a little flash but not help us sustain growth.”
Golden had worked with an individual consultant a few months ago, ironing out logistics and eventually introducing him to board members at a Saturday retreat in November. Derek Young, a Nashville-based consultant, author and motivational speaker who owns Derek Young Speaks, made an impression on the board, but he and Golden decided that handling the racial and equity situation at WCS was perhaps beyond the means of a single consultant.
“If we’re going to grow our competence, how we serve our diverse student body and our teachers, we really need professional help,” Golden said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Over the years we’ve seen many examples where we’ve taken an response or reaction to a particular event, but we need a comprehensive plan that’s going to take some work to put together if we’re going to create a sustainable change in how we approach these issues that our families have raised.
“We’re still working on that second prong of what I’ve discussed, and we’re continuing to vet some of those professional organizations.”
While Keese and the other speakers during the meeting agree that a long-term approach would best come from an experienced group or organization that handles such matters, they also believe input from parents is critical to the process.
“I’m hopeful they’re going to put the right resources toward these issues,” Tizgel High, a mom to two students at Edmondson Elemetary School and one at Brentwood Middle, told the Home Page Thursday. “These are not easy issues; they’re hard to work through, especially in the era we’re in now, with the pandemic and things they’re having to navigate.
“But because it’s so challenging, there’s a time when we just need to start to act. I appreciate that they want to take the right steps and find a consultant to guide them appropriately, but I think what parents are saying is, … can they help in that process?
“I do think it’s important,” added High, who is Black. “There’s a lot of energy right now, a lot of parents from all walks of life that are really interested in pushing the district to take on these issues.”