In the June 2020 edition of InsideSchools, our community newsletter, school board directors Doug Benjamin and Jenn Mason discuss the unprecedented spring of the pandemic closure and widespread protests against systemic racism. Photo above: (left to right) Alderwood Principal Micah Smith, Superintendent Greg Baker, Alderwood Assistant Principal Minh Nguyen with School Board Directors Doug Benjamin and Jenn Mason.
As you think back on this spring, what are some of your reflections about our closure and the pandemic?
MASON: Like many, I’ve been home with my child since March 13, juggling work and parent duties, grappling to make sense of the last few months. It seemed impossible to anticipate our school year would end this way, still in the midst of a pandemic and unable to reach out to others in familiar ways.
But as it often does, crisis not only exposes our vulnerabilities but also our strengths. Through uncertainty, fear–and yes, sometimes frustration–our students, staff, and families have made it to the end of a challenging school year. I am particularly moved by our seniors who pushed to graduate while taking jobs to help their families, caring for siblings or their own children, and completing classes without their usual educational supports. As our school year ends during Pride month, I’m also reminded of the struggles and strength of students who aren’t able to be “out” at home or are forced to hide their identities. We see you.
BENJAMIN: Our school board’s job is to provide our community with a competent and skilled superintendent. When I look at this through that lens, I am extremely proud of how Superintendent Greg Baker and our district handled things this spring, especially because it is unprecedented. There is no class to prepare you for this. We can’t refer to a book for the answers. But one thing the closure clearly illustrated to me is that our schools are so important; they play a significant role in our community. I do acknowledge that it was a challenging time for many people.
Looking ahead to the fall, I am reassured by all the work happening to develop answers and plans. It’s important to develop a plan that doesn’t compromise education or health.
BENJAMIN: When we think about the current protests around our country, the desire to learn more about what it means to be an anti-racist and how to fight against systemic racism, I am proud and gratified for our board’s work to develop a race and equity policy (Executive Limitation-10) adopted in August 2019.
We worked on this policy for two years, and the conversation and engagement grew and grew, and we received important feedback. I remember initially, back in 2017, there were some who wondered whether we really needed a policy because of the all the work the district was already doing. But it makes a difference. It speaks volumes to this community and helps hold our district accountable. It’s also important to point out that we rarely add or develop policies like this. It’s not something that happens every year.
MASON: With demands for societal change continuing around the world, this is a critical opportunity for us as adults to learn alongside our young people. While recent murders sparked today’s protests, anti-Blackness has existed in our country since the first slaves were brought here in 1619. We must dismantle systems of oppression, deeply examine whiteness, and work to repair centuries of racial injustice. As a school board member, I am committed to listening, engaging in conversations about race, and working deeply with our EDI policy focused on disrupting systemic inequities. Black lives matter. It’s not enough to just say it, but to put meaningful action behind those words.