By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – The Howard-Suamico school board acknowledges it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, but aims to change that in light of recent events.
A diversity and inclusion update from staff members and Sahra Ahmed, student representative to the board, proved informative at the Monday, June 9, meeting.
“Not enough black students reach out to teachers because they don’t find them relatable,” Ahmed said. “But how do we make the counselors or trusted adults reach out to them more? Because sometimes it feels like they’re targeting me because I am different.”
Ahmed told the board she has heard racial slurs in the hallways and on social media, and is frustrated because the offender usually only gets in-school suspension and is forced to apologize.
“What I find the most is when someone is called something inappropriate, they’d rather go to a close friend,” she said. “There needs to be an alternative way to express that to adults… The other thing that needs to be solved is stopping them from saying it in the first place.”
According to numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 88.7 percent of the district’s 6,000 students in 2018-19 were white.
Twenty years ago that number was 96 percent.
Kourtney Feldhuasen, Howard-Suamico student and family engagement coordinator, said the percentage of non-white staff hasn’t kept up with the increased percentage of students.
“If we’re looking at systemic racism and how that’s based, look at our entire education system,” she said. “Again, we don’t know what we don’t know, it’s all we’ve ever known.”
She said the district needs to listen now, and community members will be brought together in the future, but no date has been set.
“We need to have some listening sessions with key stakeholders,” Feldhausen said. “We need student voice, we need department voice, we need community voice, we need staff voice, but at the same time, I’m very big on that idea of white privilege, and it’s something I’m still learning about, but I can’t be that voice.”
Teresa Ford, board president, said white privilege needs to be part of any future discussions.
“I believe that needs to be a complementary focus of this, because we don’t know, we don’t get it, and we don’t even realize we’re part of the problem until we have a greater understanding of our own box we’ve been raised in,” Ford said.
In other news, the district outlined the teams in place to start the process of determining what school will look like in the fall, just a day after Bay Port’s online graduation ceremony.
Howard-Suamico Superintendent Damian LaCroix said the district has formed cross-functional teams that are able to leverage wisdom in different areas.
He said the first team covers the instructional core and social and emotional learning, the second team is focused on operations and resources and the third team will handle stakeholders and communication.
“This all relates to what kind of models might we have to have learning,” said Matt Spets, assistant superintendent of operations. “How might students learn? What would school look like going forward? Because we don’t really know. We don’t know what the guidance is going to be. It seems to change daily all the time.”
The district has three task force meetings between now and July, where the teams will look at more scenarios and narrow down what a plan, or multiple plans, could look like.
“We have a lot of work in front of us,” LaCroix said. “In many ways, the hard part is in front of us, in terms of the planning and the attention to detail.”