Letter to the editor: Concrete steps needed to improve ACSD climate
When I heard, a year and a half ago, that Esther Charlestin was going to be the Dean of Climate and Culture at Middlebury Union Middle School, I was thrilled. Having worked briefly with Esther in two different contexts, I knew that her kindness, compassion, and commitment would serve MUMS well in its time of need. I was devastated to learn that she experienced racism, resulting in her departure. What a huge loss for MUMS, Addison Central School District, and the growth of our citizen-students. This was a failure of management.
In his early response to Esther’s experience, Interim Superintendent Tim Williams said that the problem had been handled at the building level. Channels of authority exist by design; by making that statement, Interim Superintendent Williams assumed that management at “the building level” would have the capacity to respond appropriately. The hostile work environment that Esther experienced had/has legal implications, not just issues of morality, ethics and humanity. The district is ultimately responsible for legal issues up and down the management chain.
Interim Superintendent Williams’s efforts to build district awareness and capacity, as reported in his community forum in the Sept. 21, 2023, Addison Independent, are a good start; as Esther said in her OpEd of Aug. 31, there is much work to be done. However, the work must include more than statements, initiatives, and trainings. The work must include creation and ongoing evaluation of management policies and systems that support those statements, initiatives, and trainings.
Interim Superintendent Williams is correct in using the word courage, as change is hard. It will take courage to honestly and ethically train all ACSD employees (why limit to 6th-12th?). It will take even more administrative courage to ensure that policies and systems are enacted promptly to support on-going practice of what’s learned in the trainings. To not change is to miseducate, perpetuating a system of inequity, disenfranchisement, cynicism, and/or fear.
The administration should update and adopt a comprehensive supervision and evaluation plan (and appropriate training in that process) for all levels of management from the superintendent to principals to teachers to staff; even more administrative courage is required. A robust supervision and evaluation system is essential if the district truly wishes to hold all ACSD employees accountable to the trainings referred to by Interim Superintendent Williams.
Esther was harmed. Can those harms be repaired? Repairing harm involves empathetic acknowledgement, action for prevention, and apology. Since appropriate repair allows the person affected to have a voice in the process, Esther should be invited into its creation; otherwise, any public apology is likely to be inadequate window dressing at best, furthering the harms.
I applaud Interim Superintendent Williams’s efforts to include the community. I and others look forward to hearing more about opportunities to engage in these much-needed community conversations.
Education is happening in every moment of every day — is it the education that our community needs? The children are watching.
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