Message from the Superintendent

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Message from the Superintendent
Olympia School District officesHello OSD families,

It seems like each week over the last year has been more momentous than the last. But, I would say that this week, Feb 1-5, 2021 has been one of special significance in the Olympia School District. Today marks the final day of “Black Lives Matter at School Week” -- a week that has been proclaimed by our school board the past three years, and has been recognized by educators across the country during the first week of February, which is also Black History Month. And in this same week, based on the recommendation of our health officials, for the first time in nearly a year, we welcomed many preschoolers and kindergartners into our school buildings as the first step in our roll-out of in-person hybrid learning for all students.

Last spring, after the killing of George Floyd, in a message to our community, we talked specifically about the assertion that “Black Lives Matter”. The phrase and movement has since been embraced by school districts, local governments and professional sports leagues across the country. This refrain elicits strong emotions from people. For many, especially those in our communities of color, it is an overdue and repeatedly unheard affirmation that has too often been dismissed by our nation that has disregarded its founding ideals and historically and repeatedly objectified, marginalized and oppressed those with darker skin.

From our nation’s infancy our laws counted those of African descent as 3/5ths of a person, not in a half-hearted attempt to recognize their humanity, but rather only to give more voting power to slave states. And then, decades later, our highest court in the land deemed those same people, to be less than even that, as nothing more than pieces of property. Bloody wars were fought to end this scourge only to have those same racist and cruel practices cemented in Jim Crow laws and business and educational practices across the country that stacked the deck against our communities of color for decades upon decades. Our highest court once again solidified this in 1896 by codifying “separate but equal” as allowable in our schools. That law was not overturned until Justice Thurgood Marshall, who served as an attorney with the NAACP at the time and is the namesake of one of our westside middle schools, won a supreme court case in 1954. That was not all that long ago. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally made illegal practices that had disenfranchised African Americans for centuries. Again, that was not that long ago.

And at the present time, African Americans continue to experience disproportionate and disparate impacts due to structural racism. Educational outcomes, health care outcomes, lending practices, criminal justice, all show glaringly persistent lopsided statistics toward the negative for our communities of color. The halls of government have been overwhelmingly dominated by white men since our nation was founded. 98% of all US Senators have been white men, and the same is true of US Presidents. This is in a country where today 40% of all Americans identify as people of color and by 2041 will make up the majority of the US population.

And when we look at all of that, is it any wonder why there is a loud call and demand that “Black Lives ''should” Matter''. For too long as a nation we have perpetuated systems that would make anyone on the receiving end of those inequitable practices hear a loud and clear message that they don’t matter or certainly matter less. That cannot stand. In spite of these continuing discriminations, amazingly, African Americans have been leaders and persisted and contributed in immeasurable ways to the culture and fabric of our country and make us who we are.

Our district’s proclamation this year of Black Lives Matter at School Week has seemed to create more discord and discomfort than in previous years. There has been extensive discourse on social media, as well as some angry calls to our district administrative offices and schools. At Boston Harbor Elementary School, words such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Diversity” spelled out into the school’s wire fence disappeared three times this week in the overnight hours. Staff have responded by replacing the signage each time it disappeared, and they were emboldened by an outpouring of support from families and community members asking how they could help.

These incidents are also a clear reminder of why we will continue our efforts to confront racial inequity head on. Olympia School District Student Outcome #4 states that school systems have a responsibility to their students and the communities they serve to nurture young people so they will have the courage and skills to “confront personal, systemic and societal bias” and recognize the many types of privilege that exist in our society. If we expect that of our students, we must have the courage to model that as adults. The board resolution further states that the work of dismantling systems of oppression requires an open and continuous dialogue between all members of our community. This is not easy work, but belated and necessary. And remember, our best learning occurs when we are uncomfortable.

Outward displays of displeasure or anger can be hurtful to our students, staff and community, particularly black, indigenous, and people of color. The district stands with our students, families and staff of color and believes that Black Lives Matter.

As the late civil rights leader John Lewis said, "Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society.” We will remain steadfast in our work with staff, and in partnership with families and students, to lead us to a more culturally responsive and welcoming school district so we can be more effective at confronting and dismantling inequities in our system. It is the only way we can end the distressing disproportionate outcomes that have plagued our schools for far too long.

Equity work is not a designated week, or a month in our calendar year. It is a cultural change in our system that will result in a change to how we do business every day. As we welcomed many of our preschoolers and kindergartners back to our campus this week, and proclaimed that Black Lives Matter, we not only celebrated seeing our youngest learners in person, but have affirmed our commitment to ensure all of our students and families receive an equitable and just educational experience.

Thank you,

Superintendent Patrick Murphy
Olympia School District