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Suburban superintendents pledge to stand against racism

Rochester City School District

School Superintendents from across Monroe County say “our children deserve better and we will do better.” Those words were part of a statement released Tuesday by the Monroe County Council of Superintendents in response to the Black Lives Matter protests over the last few weeks. 

“We acknowledge that discrimination exists in all of our communities,” said the statement. “We see it in the bias that exists within our districts. We see it from the trauma that hatred and oppression inflict on our students and their families. We see it in the educational inequalities that continue to perpetrate glaring inequalities in student outcomes.”

It continued, “We will listen and learn from those who experienced these tragedies and live with the fear and pain of racism everyday. We take responsibility for educating ourselves and will be intentional for rebuilding our education system which has not served underrepresented student populations well.” 

Thomas Putnam is president of council. He said schools are a microcosm of the larger society, and says that “overt and covert racism will happen” and that it's important to take a stand against it. 

“We will work diligently with families and students in order to make sure that we leave our schools better than when we started,” said Putnam. “This is a partnership situation. Schools can’t do it alone. We really need families in the community to work and partner with us to make sure we are supporting our students.”

The statement signed by all Monroe County superintendents pledges to lead “the change that will create lasting equity in our schools,” in part by creating new training on cultural responsive education and restorative practices for conflict resolution, assessing and rethinking hiring processes and planning to decrease the disportionality in both student achievement and discipline. 

Putnam, who is also superintendent of Penfield Schools, said they also plan to work with BOCES and the University of Rochester to teach how race and inequality have shaped Monroe County since 1964.

He said one step his district is taking is diversifying the books used in classrooms

“And the focus is to bring more literature authored by people of color in order to broaden the perspective of our student body,” said Putnam.

Putnam also leads the county’s Urban Suburban program and said he wants further expansion. The urban suburban program diversifies districts by allowing students from city schools to go to suburban schools and vice versa. 

Putnam said he does not want to sacrifice class sizes for the sake of the program. He said a Penfield School District capital project is adding more classrooms which could help the district absorb more city school students in the coming years.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.