In wake of a divisive election season, school leaders from Champaign and Urbana have reached out to their communities affirming their commitment to fostering climates that value safe and equitable learning environments.
The Champaign and Urbana statements follow a nationwide trend of school administrators who have addressed their communities with post-election messages, emails and letters.
“As always, Dr. Don Owen blows me away with his ability to look after all of the individuals in his district. He leads by example, and his example is beyond reproach. We are blessed to have such a stellar leader in Urbana schools,” said Deborah Barenek, a parent.
Urbana 116 Superintendent Don Owen sent out his message Monday night to families and staff. The letter has been copied in its entirety below (in English and Spanish).
The mission of Urbana School District #116, a multicultural community committed to educational excellence, is to ensure that all learners acquire knowledge, develop skills, and build character to achieve personal greatness and help create a better global society, by providing innovative, comprehensive programs, respecting individual learning styles and cultural differences, and fostering caring and nurturing relationships, while engaging each student, every family and the entire community.
Additionally, Urbana School District #116 is devoted to promoting welcoming, safe, and equitable learning environments for all of our students and families regardless of student identities including: race, class, (dis)ability, language, religion, sexuality, gender, immigration status, and others. As educators, adults, and leaders in this community, we want to make sure that all of our students feel safe and supported.
One of the ways we promote safe and equitable schools and help support educators, students, and families is providing all of our employees with racial equity training. We are also committed to reducing harassing behavior as evidenced by our board policies and administrative procedures. We do not condone harassment, bullying or bigotry. We investigate and address all issues that are brought to our attention, and we have begun using restorative practices to build a better understanding among individuals.
Please know that if you need support for your students or yourself, do not hesitate to ask; we are here for you. Sometimes students need an outlet, and the best thing we can do is model respectful listening. As we are here for you, please remember that our students look to all of us for support and understanding.
Donald D. Owen
La misión del Distrito Escolar de Urbana 116, una comunidad multicultural comprometida a la excelencia académica, es de asegurar que todos los estudiantes adquieran los conocimientos, desarrollen las habilidades y cimienten el carácter para lograr la grandeza personal y ayudar a crear una mejor sociedad mundial. Esta meta se logrará al proveer programas innovadores y comprensivos, al respetar los estilos de aprendizaje individuales y las diferencias culturales y al cultivar relaciones de afecto, cuidado y protección, mientras se motiva la participación de cada estudiante, de su familia y de toda la comunidad.
Adicionalmente, el Distrito escolar de Urbana #116 está comprometido a promover ambientes de aprendizaje acogedores, seguros y equitativos para todos los estudiantes y familias sin importar su identidad incluyendo: raza, clase, habilidad, lenguaje, religión, preferencia sexual, género, estatus migratorio y otros. Nosotros como educadores, adultos, y líderes de nuestra comunidad queremos asegurar que todos nuestros estudiantes se sienten seguros y apoyados.
Una de las maneras en que promovemos la seguridad y equidad en nuestras escuelas y apoyamos a nuestros educadores, estudiantes y familias es ofreciendo entrenamiento de equidad racial a todos nuestros empleados. También estamos comprometidos con la reducción del comportamiento de acoso como lo demuestran nuestras políticas de la junta directiva y los procedimientos administrativos. Nosotros no toleramos el acoso, la intimidación o la intolerancia. Investigamos y resolvemos todos los problemas que se nos reportan, y hemos comenzado a usar las prácticas restaurativas para construir un mejor entendimiento entre los individuos.
Tenga por seguro que si necesita apoyo para sus estudiantes o para usted estamos aqui para ustedes. Por favor no dude en acercarse a nosotros. Algunas veces los estudiantes necesitan una manera para desahogarse y lo mejor que podemos hacer es modelar una forma respetuosa de escuchar. Estamos aquí para ustedes, por favor recuerde que nuestros estudiantes necesitan el apoyo y la comprensión de todos nosotros.
Donald D. Owen
Champaign Unit 4 Schools Superintendent Judy Wiegand addressed her comments, published Tuesday morning, to district faculty and staff.
“Dear Faculty and Staff,
I am writing to address concerns in our school community regarding the climate in our country after the 2016 election and how this may be impacting our students, faculty and staff. Please be reassured that in Unit 4 we remain steadfast in our commitment to equity and providing safe, supportive learning environments for all children in our community. It is our deeply held belief that public schools are places where we can champion unity over divisiveness.
To do this, we must continue to create an environment that allows for the free exchange of ideas and non-partisan discussion of the issues. Our students are looking to us to set an example on how we move forward together and conduct respectful discussion on controversial issues. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has provided excellent guidance for how adults can support children and youth who may be struggling. You can view that here.
For those students, families, and staff who are upset or may be worried about the future, each of our schools has created safe spaces where students can feel heard and voice their concerns. We must also remain vigilant in ensuring the safety of all students. Each Unit 4 employee has completed training via SafeSchools on how to address bullying among students, particularly actions aimed at vulnerable student populations. Any instances of bullying should be documented and addressed in accordance with our Code of Conduct.
This is also an opportunity to more deeply engage in our school community and work to fully realize our District’s mission for an excellent and equitable education for all. I would like to highlight some of our ongoing efforts below, and encourage you to participate and engage in our work in these areas.
· Social Justice Seminars – Social justice seminars take place quarterly and are open to all community members. Contact: Laura Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org. The District’s social justice efforts have spurred a number of task forces, including:
o LGBTQ Task Force – Contact: Angi Franklin, email@example.com or Danielle Cook, firstname.lastname@example.org.
o Homelessness Task Force – Contact: Bill Taylor, email@example.com
o Social Justice Educators’ Collaborative – Contact: Katie Flugge, firstname.lastname@example.org.
· Education, Equity, Excellence (EEE) Committee – This District committee focuses on equitable access and academic outcomes for all students. Contact: Angelia Smith, email@example.com.
· Culturally Responsive Education – This effort and collaboration with Dr. Fergus from NYU includes implicit bias training. As a continuation of this work, we continue to monitor equity work in each building. Contact your building administrator on how to get involved.
· Minority Teacher Recruiting & Retention Committee (MTRRC) – This committee focuses on how to recruit and retain high quality minority faculty, hosting regular social gatherings and an annual conference. Contact: Ken Kleber, firstname.lastname@example.org.
· English Learner Parent Advocacy Committee (PAC) – Regular meetings for English Learner parents to gather resources and build community. Contact: Maria Alanis, email@example.com.
· Special Education – Resources and supports for families with students with special needs. Contact: Elizabeth deGruy, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you all for your passionate commitment to our students and schools. I consider it a great honor to serve alongside each of you. Together, we will continue this journey to achieve equity and excellence and provide opportunities for all students to fully realize their hopes and dreams.