CDM Letter to School Committee (1/30/21)

January 30, 2021

Dear School Committee Members Varela, Eberhardt, Craghead, Donahue, White, and Rosmarin,

We write to express our concern about the sudden appointment of a permanent Superintendent on the heels of a unilateral appointment of a new Assistant Superintendent, both without a posting, a search, or even a robust public vetting process. In response to these events, we are seeking two immediate actions by the School Committee to ensure these practices are not repeated, and to build trust in its stated commitment to excellence, equity, antiracism, and inclusion in its practices.

Fair, open, rigorous and community-participatory decision making processes are a cornerstone for advancing equity and antiracism, and excellence. Becoming an exemplar educational system that centers equity, diversity of thought, inclusion, and antiracism, requires more than rethinking curriculum and teacher practice, it requires that we interrogate and challenge our institutional practices and policies, to root out the racism and white privilege we know to be endemic.

We want to emphasize that we write this letter with a focus on process, systems, practices and policies, and our belief that a lack of transparency, rigor, and inclusion hurts everyone, including the candidates themselves. While our groups have no past relationship with Assistant Superintendent Dexter, CDM has known and worked with Mr. Jette for many years and, in fact, has advocated for his promotion publicly in the past. We have deep respect for his hard work, his belief in high quality education, and his commitment to this District. He certainly deserves credit for his leadership through the multiple crises we are facing at this time. Unfortunately, the haste of the School Committee and lack of a transparent and rigorous process has deprived him and the community of the opportunity to know that his appointment was the result of a robust and representative process that searched out the best candidates available, assessed their strengths and weaknesses, and chose the best person for this unique time and place.

Beyond the impacts on the candidates, denying the community a search, or even a robust public vetting process, runs the risk of inflicting further harm on community members who feel their voices don’t matter. Transparent processes are central to earning and keeping the confidence and trust of parents, teachers, and students, particularly those with experiences of being excluded from and harmed by the system. Equitable and inclusive processes require proactive and intentional efforts to ensure that all voices, particularly those historically muted, have a seat at the table.

While the School Committee conducted surveys and listening sessions, those cannot replace a process that involves the careful consideration of a slate of candidates and debate among the members of a selection committee that represents varied perspectives and voices such as parents, teachers, students, and invested community groups, like CDM, MARC, SEPAC, and others (as was advised by MASC). The community came out in very large numbers (2,200 in the survey and hundreds at the listening sessions) to emphasize that “the process matters” and they wish to be part of it.

It was a troubling setback to then see the School Committee take actions that were wholly unresponsive to calls for a transparent and robust process. During the 1/20 school committee meeting, we watched as committee members laid out the options for posting the position more broadly and hiring a search firm to recruit applicants, and then quickly pivoted to dismiss these options with mere speculation that no worthy candidates would apply. We fear that further harm was done by the School Committee

misleading people into thinking they were part of the process, and then sending a clear message to parents, students and teachers that the high powers in town can do as they please.

If the School Committee truly aspires to become an educational system that is excellent, equitable and antiracist, we urge you to take the following action steps before any additional leadership appointments are made by School Committee or the Superintendent:

1. Adopt a resolution that outlines standards for transparent, inclusive, equitable, and antiracist selection processes to guide all appointments under the purview of the School Committee.

2. Outline criteria to include in the Superintendent’s evaluation rubric related to oversight and implementation of transparent, inclusive, equitable and antiracist selection processes for all district leadership positions (assistant principal and higher) under the purview of the Superintendent.

We recognize that the School Committee is under no legal obligation to take these steps, rather it is an opportunity for the District to uphold its values and make progress towards its stated goals, including those recently updated in the strategic plan to promote antiracist hiring practices.

We look forward to hearing your response soon, and ask that you address this publicly before or during the upcoming February 3 School Committee meeting given the time sensitive nature. Our groups are willing and eager to support and partner with the School Committee and District leadership to advance these action steps.

Respectfully,
Citizens for a Diverse Milton
Milton Anti-Racist Coalition (MARC) Strategy Group

cc: Milton Public Schools Superintendent, James Jette

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