Deanna Martinez may have said it best during public comments. “When we consider the most marginalized … we actually umbrella everybody else. Everybody else does better.”
In other words, “It helps all students,” Bainbridge Island School District superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen added later.
Martinez was talking about the BISD’s new policy on “Race, Equity and Identity,” which was approved by the school board Thursday night.
Deputy superintendent Erin Murphy said about 1,000 community members last summer urged the district in a letter to work on such a policy, which was then drafted through numerous outreach processes. It looked at similar policies in districts from as small as Quincy to as large as Seattle. She said the policies are “not all the same” because each community uses “a different lens.”
New board member Robert Cromwell asked about how progress regarding the policy will be measured. Murphy answered those metrics will evolve over time through things like surveys, focus groups and public comment.
Jennifer Kniseley, interim director of Teaching and Learning, said while measures haven’t been built yet the policy will help guide what’s done in the classroom. “A large piece of the pie is teaching and learning,” she said, adding it will impact curriculum as that plays a key role in student development. She said students will learn that regardless of culture or color, if they can associate with someone different than them, “It enriches their experience.”
During public comments, all but Martin Stever seemed to like the policy. He called it “terrible,” adding any policy that suggests treating people differently because of skin color is racist.
But Chasity Malatesta said BI has fought for racial equity since the Japanese internment of World War II and before that. She said this policy “expands on that narrative” and encourages people to “tell the hard stories.” She said if society learns from history it “allows us to be better” and “empowers students to ask the right questions.”
Adrian Malatesta said, “Diversity is essential to a vibrant community.” He said society continuing to dilute certain cultures is no way to prepare students for the future. They have to learn about diverse voices, and that using a lens of equity and inclusion will make them better prepared for life.
Marsha Cutting said passing the policy is the only “fair and just thing to do.” She said while history has shown inequities for people of color, “The future is multicultural.” She said students need to feel comfortable in multicultural situations. “Enjoy diversity, don’t fear it.”
Martinez said she gets hurt and angry when she hears certain comments about race, but she tries to take emotion out of it because, “We have to meet everyone where they’re at.” But she supports the school district to make equity and anti-racism part of BI education. She encouraged people who disagree with the new policy to ask questions. “Working from a place of fear never gives good results,” she said.
Reductions in force
Because of a continued decline in enrollment, the school board also voted to approve a Reduction in Force.
Bang-Knudsen said because of things like retirements, he only predicts having to cut possibly three teaching positions. He said it could have been worse, but one-time dollars from the state and federal governments helped.
School board member Mark Emerson asked if this situation is temporary or if it is a “bleeding to death kind of thing – cut and cut again.”
Bang-Knudsen said he hopes students will return to the district after staying away this year due to COVID-19 concerns. However, he has seen a “real demographic decline.” For example, he said while 350 students will graduate from Bainbridge High School this year only 200 students are in the kindergarten class.
He said limited housing development in recent years has meant fewer young families on the island, adding he fears there will be more cuts in upcoming years.
In his superintendent’s report, Bang-Knutsen said 62% of staff are fully vaccinated against COVID, and he is hearing that many students 16 and older also are getting shots. “It’s the highest vaccination rate in” Kitsap County, he said, adding everyone qualified should get their shot to “really help us turn this around.”
He said with 410 staff and 2,700 students no one is quarantined or has an active case. However, because cases are on the rise in Kitsap County outside of BI, Bang-Knudsen said Gov. Jay Inslee may move us to Phase 2 from Phase 3, and that could “impact larger gatherings.”
Speaking of that, in-person graduation is set for 4 p.m. June 12 at BHS Memorial Stadium. Each grad is only allowed two family members so there can be proper social distancing. Also, Commencement will be livestreamed for other family and friends to enjoy.
Andrew Carr, a BHS chemistry teacher, then made an appearance as part of Teacher Appreciation Week May 3-7. “It’s a little redundant,” he said. “I feel appreciated every day.”
Carr said BI students are very kind in that they thank him every day. “It makes me want to give even more,” he said. “My kids are counting on me.” He added he likes to tell them, “Like it or not you’re always going to be one of my kids.”
Bang-Knudsen said he’s always appreciated teachers, but “this year even more so.” During COVID, teaching online and in-person, “Teachers have been a lifeline.”
“We only value you guys even more,” school board member Sanjay Pal agreed.
School board president Lynn Smith, with a big smile on her face, said her high schooler loves being back in school, so her appreciation for teachers is “10 billion times more than it was last year.”
Race, Equity and Identity
The core purpose of the Bainbridge Island School District is to nurture the potential in all students so they are equipped for a world of infinite possibilities. The BISD acknowledges that institutional racism exists, and we are committed to working until race is no longer a predictor of student outcomes. It is unacceptable that opportunity gaps continue because of historic, current and institutional racism. BISD believes that the diversity of our student body, our staff and our community is a strength.
BISD aspires for historically underserved students to thrive in an environment that notices, acknowledges and values who they are and contributes to their academic achievement. Race, as well as socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and ability must cease to be a predictor of student success. The entire community benefits when every child succeeds. Addressing opportunity and achievement gaps is the only acceptable path toward true equality and student success.
District employees will develop and implement equitable practices for supporting the inclusion of all stakeholders, as the intentional engagement of families, students, and community members provides multiple perspectives and views for solutions to issues that arise. Leaders will ensure that racial equity guides employee actions and leads to improved academic results raising the opportunity and achievement of all students while narrowing the gaps between the highest and lowest achieving students.