We live in an age where our schools are looking to fortify their buildings out of a desire to keep students safe at school. While this may be a focus of some school district’s safety efforts, there are other matters that impact everyone in our buildings on an intimate and personal level.
Each year, Questar III’s Administrative Leadership Team creates a set of goals to guide us throughout the year. These goals are two-fold: one, it unites the entire organization around a common set of priorities, and two, it allows our programs, services and schools to develop their own strategies, relevant to their work, to meet these shared goals.
While we always focus on developing the capacity of staff, and creating, improving and evaluating programs and services, this year we added a new goal to create a healthy organizational culture. This includes physical and mental health, safety, wellness, diversity and inclusivity.
It is important that our students have schools where all students feel safe and welcomed. Schools must develop cultures that value individual differences where all are embraced and accepted. A culture that accepts diversity in all its forms is the best way to not only improve morale among our students, but to increase their ability to think freely and achieve academic success. It also is critical for staff and the parents of our students. Creating a welcoming and positive culture in our schools mitigates issues of isolation thus decreasing safety issues.
As an unknown author once said – “diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.”
Diversity is more than just what we can see on the surface as we look around a classroom or workplace. It starts with who we are – our language, our way of life, our values – it is not exclusive to the color of our skin. It includes our gender identity and expression, orientation, nationality, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, age, interests, and culture. Culture is complex – it is not only the particular way we act in specific social contexts, but also how we live and experience these activities (Williams, 1961). Ultimately, diversity is not about a few, or how we differ, rather it is about how we embrace our uniqueness and the uniqueness of others.
As educators, it is our job to help the next generation – the students in our schools every day – better understand how our country and world continues to change. After all, the US Census projects that we will have a minority-majority country by 2045.
Given the ongoing changes in our student population – there is also a need for greater diversity among educational leaders. The New York State Council of School Superintendents (NYSCOSS) includes in its vision and core values that the Council is “committed to helping ensure gender, racial and economic equality among those serving as superintendent.” The Council’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusivity* is working to ensure schools and school districts have leaders who are representative of the changing faces of our student population in addition to possessing the skills to be responsive to the changing demographics in our schools.
I am proud to be a member of the Commission, and it is my hope that our work will cultivate an inclusive mindset among our school leaders and serve as a reminder to all that equity and excellence are not mutually exclusive. Rather without equity, excellence is merely privilege, and without excellence, equity is solely tokenism.**
As we begin a new school year, I celebrate the diversity within our organization, from the value our staff brings to all aspects of our BOCES in wonderful talents, experiences and backgrounds, to the increasingly diverse student population we serve across Rensselaer, Columbia and Greene Counties and beyond.
Together, through the care and empathy our instructional staff provides to students, and the expertise and attention our support staff provides to our districts, we will continue to position ourselves to change lives, realize dreams, and do together what can’t be done alone.
It is my hope for this school year that we will continue to imagine and dream big, making the once impossible, possible.