Superintendent Pendergrast shares his thoughts and reaffirms the values of the Morris School District.
June 3, 2020
Dear Morris School District Community,
There are important words that I want to share with you today—that I have a responsibility to share with you as the leader of this school community at a time of grave national concern. First and foremost, in the strongest possible terms, I condemn—and the Morris School District condemns—the ugly racism that persists in this country and the continual persecution of African Americans, whether in overt ways like the murder of George Floyd and other brutal acts of violence, or in more insidious ways like the daily prejudices and institutional barriers faced by communities of color. All of this is reprehensible and stands at clear odds with the inalienable rights with which all Americans should be endowed.
Recent events in Minneapolis and across the nation have left many of us feeling grief, outrage, and a sense of powerlessness, regardless of our geographic location, age, gender, or race. But I recognize as well that there is a particular anguish felt by our students, staff, families, and community members of color that I will never experience as a white person.
In my personal and professional life, it has been my practice to always try to attach myself to something positive. Thus, in spite of the overwhelming magnitude of the current moment, I am cleaving to the power of education. I have to believe that education will help steer us forward. Urgent change is possible, and educating our students to embrace that concept and strive toward its realization is incumbent on all of us who work with, care for, and love our young people. I take some solace, and I hope you do, too, in believing that we can help our students to stand firm against injustice everywhere; to develop and deploy their skills of reasoning, communication, and collaboration in order to bridge differences; to marshal their convictions and shape them into acts of kindness, empathy, community support, and social change.
How can we, the Morris School District, do our part to arrive at a more perfect union, to bend the arc toward justice? I think a starting place lies in our district’s long-standing investment in becoming an inclusive “community of communities.” During the past few years, you may have heard me refer to the founding of the Morris School District in the early 1970s under a court order designed to promote racial balance and integration. While the extent to which this initial promise has held true is relative and not always consistent, I still think our district has prospered because the ideal of an inclusive community was baked right in. Yet more important than anchoring ourselves in the ideals of our district’s founding, we must earnestly and continually re-examine whether we are, in fact, living up to them. Two of our ongoing district priorities (implementing our Equity & Inclusion Action Plan and building and sustaining a healthy community) have provided valuable direction in this regard and have enabled us to accomplish things of which we should all be very proud. But we are imperfect, and there is still much urgent work to be done to become the community of communities we aspire to be.
We must be steadfast enough in our commitment to equity and inclusion to be able to ask ourselves tough questions and answer them honestly so that we can continue our progress. Are we sufficiently cultivating an environment in which each student belongs, feels valued, and derives the advantages of an exceptional education? Where do we fall short? Where can we look closer, learn better, and work harder to achieve real inclusiveness? We must check ourselves and interrogate our programs and practices, making certain that we have the mechanisms and the habits in place to keep performing this kind of institutional self-examination.
The history of racism in the United States and its persistent legacy of trauma is difficult for adults to confront and grapple with, and perhaps even more so for our children. But confront it we must.
To assist in your conversations at home, our counselors and administrators are assembling some resources that they will share with you in the coming days. At the middle and high school levels, plans are taking shape to offer our older students a forum for discussing current events and their reactions to them. FMS and MHS families will hear more about these plans from their respective principals. Counselors and outreach coordinators at each school are available for students who are experiencing distress. Please reach out to your principal to connect you to someone who can help.
The Morris School District affirms our enduring values of equity and inclusion so that each student can ascend academically, socially, and emotionally. Our Equity & Inclusion Action Plan articulates the terms of this commitment: “Under the guiding principle that education is a right to which all human beings deserve equal access, our students will be empowered to seek and evaluate multiple perspectives, collaborate with new understandings and cultural proficiencies, contribute to our democratic society and the world at large with tolerance and civility, practice empathy and kindness, and respect the dignity of all people through their words and actions.” With these precepts in mind, together as one community we will push onward relentlessly to build a better world.
Superintendent of Schools