We, the teachers of the Wood River High School Equity Task Force, are committed to confronting systemic inequalities and racism by taking action to ensure that all students have access and success in our school. We are learners and activists for our students and families of color. As such, we will be out on the streets, dropping a knee or raising a fist in support of Black Lives Matter and an end to brutality against people of color in this country.
But protesting alone will not fix the systemic racism that is built into our institutions. It will take the conscious examination and reformation of systems at the local and state level to bring real change. Public schools are one of many places where bias has been built into our bureaucratic systems and is largely responsible for major inequalities in our nation and our valley. All of this was highlighted in the COVID-19 health crisis when we discovered how truly divided our own community is with regard to access and resources to perform digital learning. While it is easy for some students and families to pivot and learn online, for many, not having reliable internet, time or finances made that pivot nearly impossible.
Last fall, 25 Wood River High School educators, supported by building and district administrators, began to examine our own school data regarding homework and grading policies, discipline and suspensions, course failures, AP/honors participation rates and gifted identification demographics. From there we identified areas where we could effect change within our school and began advocating policies, practices and procedures to produce more equitable outcomes for students who are marginalized because of race, ethnicity, linguistic heritage, gender, sexuality, immigrant status, income or (dis)ability. These decisions will be data- and research-driven and aim to elevate academic opportunities for all students.
This is just the beginning and we know we cannot change overnight, but we also know that our words are hollow if not followed by concrete action. We are not perfect but we are holding up a mirror and having hard discussions about race and our own biases in the classroom, school and community.
Moving forward, we are focusing on dismantling tracking systems to engage all students in high levels of learning. We are evaluating the usefulness of homework and shifting our grading policies from punitive to proficiency focused, reflecting what students actually know and can do. We are working with Latino community advocates to improve outreach to Latino parents and families.
We write this to inform you of the work that has already begun and to ask for your support in this work going forward. For some of you, this support may require you to listen more and say less to center new voices and ideas. For those of you who have felt excluded from our education system (as parents, students, former students, community members), we are sorry our system did not welcome you. We welcome you now and invite your feedback and suggestions to build a school system that supports and educates all our children. We must change our systems so that all learn and thrive. Socially and economically, how can we survive as a community or as a nation if we don’t?