News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Create belonging

To my fellow board members, Superintendent Scholl, all the administrators, teachers, and employees – the entire team that makes Sisters School District come to life each day — thank you!

You have faced unprecedented circumstances and challenges, and you’ve risen to meet those challenges — and to serve our kids — time and again. By any objective measure, you’ve done a better job than any other district in the state, while also being humble, owning your mistakes and continuously improving. I commend you all.

In the role of school board chair, I’ve come to appreciate our greatest asset, the Sisters community. I’ve seen our community pass the local option, fund scholarships to our graduates, pass and implement the 2016 School Bond, create innovative programming and learning opportunities, and so much more. Our community differentiates our district. Did I mention that our community just passed a $33.8 million bond to build a new elementary school?

Perhaps the best example of the power of our community is in the recent creation of our Mission and Vision. A shout-out to former board members Amanda Clark and Nicki Gregg, who worked with Curt, a cross section of district employees, parents, community members, the board, and others to craft this guiding document that helps us “Create Belonging, Prepare, and Inspire” every one of our students.

I’m proud of the work our district has done to support the Mission and Vision. Even in the grips of a pandemic, the district went above and beyond to support our kids. This is an incredible place for a vast majority of our students.

However, as I reflect on my performance in this role, I have to admit that I have failed some of our kids. I know of kids who faced overt and/or subtle forms of exclusion because of their race, their gender, their sexual identity, their religion, or some other aspect of their perfectly valid identity. Our Youth Truth survey data show we have pockets of kids who feel like they’re not welcome as their true selves. We can and must do better.

Making certain all students feel accepted and connected is not “extra” or fluffy. It drives our high graduation rate and prepares each individual student for their future. When students feel they belong, they engage with staff and peers in classes and extracurriculars. When they engage, they learn and contribute to making our community stronger. That’s it in a nutshell – the reason public schools exist in the first place.

It sounds easy, but this work is hard. Creating a sense of belonging — if done improperly — can feel like a zero-sum game and create backlash or resistance. If done properly, it lifts every member of our community and makes us all stronger. I interpret the results of the recent election as a mandate to do this work properly, with everyone, despite the fact it’s hard.

I urge the board to tackle this challenge and pick up where we left our Proclamation of Equity and Anti-Racism last September. It did not get the attention it needed as we struggled to simply open our doors amidst changing and confusing guidance.

I urge the community to embrace this challenge, too. We have factions within our community that hold conflicting and incompatible views on a variety of issues. Each faction is valid and welcome as long as they don’t exclude or marginalize the other factions. Anger, rage, and demonization must be displaced by learning, healing, and acceptance.

This clash of culture is by no means unique to Sisters — it is playing out across the state, the nation, and the world. However, Sisters is a unique enough place that we can figure it out. Our community is too great of an asset to faction off and work against each other — we must strive to understand each other and do the hard work together.

To our students: Please know every single one of you belongs here. If someone speaks or acts in a demeaning way to you because of how you look, the color of your skin, who you love, the religion you follow, the pronouns you use — or because of any other wonderful feature of your identity — then the need to change is theirs. You are fine just the way you are.

Let’s make more progress against our Mission and Vision together. The return on that work will pay off in countless ways. Thank you for the opportunity to serve on the school board. Go Outlaws!


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