Comprised of faculty, staff, community members and soon students, the Saugerties Central School District’s Diversity (SCSD), Equity and Inclusion Committee is working to ensure the district is a welcoming and challenging academic environment for everyone.
“As a district, we embrace diversity,” said Gwendolyn Roraback, chair of the committee and the SCSD’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “We embrace inclusion and equity because it will only benefit our community.”
Roraback cited a chat with Hudson Valley One late last year in explaining another reason why the efforts of the Diversity Committee are so important.
“This goes back to our first conversation of preparing our students to be global citizens,” she said. “And citizens who will be innovative, collaborative with others and have empathy.”
Roraback was speaking on Wednesday, January 26, one day after a virtual monthly meeting of the Diversity Committee which was attended by well over a dozen of its more than 30 members. During the meeting, the group discussed the New York State Education Department’s Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education framework, designed to “help educators create student-centered learning environments that affirm racial, linguistic and cultural identities; prepare students for rigor and independent learning; develop students’ abilities to connect across lines of difference; elevate historically marginalized voices; and empower students as agents of social change.”
“The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated long-standing inequities that exist throughout every facet of our society,” said Betty A. Rosa, the state commissioner of education in a May 2021 press release. “People of color, economically disadvantaged people and especially women have been impacted hardest of all. When it comes to creating a more equitable education system for all New Yorkers, I’m confident our educators and school leaders will answer this call to action and set the tone for sustainable change.”
During last week’s committee meeting, representatives of different stakeholder groups – parents and community members, teachers and staff, principals, and district administrators were asked to read and discuss different portions of the state’s framework document that were relevant to their groups.
In a statement about the importance of the state’s Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education framework, Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. said it was important for education to move forward out of the darkness of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After a year of turmoil and heartbreak, it is natural to wish for a ‘return to normal,’ but for far too many New Yorkers, the old normal is a place where people are traumatized daily by events, circumstances and the chronic lack of opportunities,” Young said. “I recognize that the scope of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Framework is daunting, but we cannot allow this opportunity for change to pass us by. We must seize this moment to redefine what is normal and possible for our students. I thank all of our educators in advance for their commitment to this critical endeavor.”
During the committee meeting, SCSD Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said the district’s goal was to try and help foster equity and inclusion with the impending closure of Mt. Marion Elementary School at the end of the 2021-22 academic year by ensuring students in every grade are being given consistent and equitable schooling. He also applauded members of the community for already stepping up to help facilitate those efforts after the Board of Education voted 8-1 during a Tuesday, January 11 meeting in favor of the closure.
“That was a challenging night for the community,” Reinhardt said. “But within 48 hours of that board meeting, I had multiple community members reach out to me asking what can they do to help? What can they do to welcome families? I think there’s a lot of really good people in the community that understand that this is going to be a difficult challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity for us to look at what’s important to our different communities. How do we bring those (Mt. Marion traditions) for all of our students to have those opportunities?”
The following day, Roraback said that the work of the committee may not yield overnight changes, but it will result in sustainable change.
“This work is so important, but it’s very difficult work,” she said. “I’m trying to reiterate over and over again that we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable sometimes to really move this forward…We’re not perfect. We need to ensure that we’re creating access for all. We’re trying to really create a strong foundation so that every single Saugerties graduate feels empowered, felt that they were given a hundred percent and were valued their entire time they were here.”
Roraback said the committee members are dedicated to making its goals come to fruition.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “After last night’s meeting, you could hear and feel the level of commitment. This is important. This is our promise to Saugerties.”
To fulfill that promise, Roraback said she planned to reach out to building principals to attempt to add students to the committee, not just for the kids, but for the adults too.
“When you have students on an adult committee, it raises the bar for adults in our dialogue,” she said. “It’s a constant remember reminder of, ‘We’re doing this for the students, and it’s not about me and our personal experiences.’ It’s really healthy to do this.”