FLEMINGTON, NJ - Hunterdon Central Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Moore began his presentation “Central Against Racism” with the school’s mission statement – but he told the school board at the Sept. 21 meeting there was a word in the statement that was “troubling” and “inadequate framing.”
That was the word “all.”
“When we talk about all and we talk about all students, what we’re in danger of doing is communicating that there is an amalgam of our students, that there’s this assimilation of our students that makes them all one body,” he said.
Moore said he recalled earlier conversations that school shouldn’t have goals, ideals and promises for all students, but they should think about how to empower each student.
“That’s a framing for us, and I think that’s a framing for schools in general,” he said. “We see a significant opportunity right now to stand with our students in a way that empowers each and every one of our students.”
The conversation on addressing race, equity and diversity in the school district comes amid a national conversation that has seen institutions from government, universities and even media outlets face a racial reckoning in the light of the May police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minneapolis.
Moore said recent racist incidents on social media and the infiltration of a student Zoom meeting with racial slurs sharpens the point of how urgent the work is.
“It’s one thing for us to work on increasing opportunity for each and every student, it’s a terribly and wholly other thing for us to have to reckon with trauma and fear that come about as a result of unacceptable and intolerable kind of racist behavior that we’ve seen in a couple of incidents over the past couple of months,” he said.
There is work to be done within the district, he said.
According to student demographics presented during the meeting, 78 percent of Hunterdon Central’s 2,699 students are white, 12 percent are Latino, 6 percent are Asian, 3 percent are Black and 1 percent identify as multiracial. The school’s 702-member staff is overwhelmingly white, about 91 percent, according to demographics presented by Moore. “What this means is that if you are a student at Hunterdon Central and you are not white, you have a much less chance of finding a staff member who looks like you and who comes from a background or an experience that relates to you,” he said. “This is a significant concern.”
Moore said the strategic plan “[moves] away from seeing students as all students who are the same to seeing students who are individuals.”
“But our strategic plan doesn’t address race and ethnicity directly in a way that out work needs to now,” he said adding that being a regional high school district, they only have students for four years.
He said the plan does look at leveling, placement and grading, and how to adjust those systems so they are not “closing doors” to students.
“The last thing we should be doing is welcoming in our ninth graders to closed doors,” he said.
Moore also said that the reopening plan does address equity.
“We talk about staff training, to ensure that our staff understands staff such topics as bias and microaggressions and all of that that they must contend with in their own practice, but also what they must be on the look out for as they move through the school and in protection of all of our students,” Moore said.
He added that the reopening plan also addresses bringing students together in community to celebrate diversity and create a safe space for students to go and find other students they can relate to.
“It’s not a rejection of all but it is an understanding that an evolution of this really drives us to a more personalized and individualized approach,” Moore said.