A superintendent of a Minnesota school district recently told her teachers and staff to look for new jobs if they are “indifferent to racial equity and anti-racist work.”
“My promise to you is this: I will interrogate my whiteness and my anti-blackness. I will have bold and courageous conversations with the leaders of our school and with the district. I will be curious and open and reflect on my own fragility and defensiveness. And I will create a culture where talking about race and confronting systems of whiteness is the norm,” Intermediate District 287 Superintendent Sandra Lewandowski recently told her staff.
District 287 provides specialized education programs to 11 member school districts, including Brooklyn Center, Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Richfield, and more.
The remarks were made during a Sept. 1 virtual “back to school staff kickoff,” similar to an event hosted by Hopkins Public Schools in which Superintendent Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed declared that a “system of racism” pervades “every aspect of our daily existence.”
Lewandowski opened her virtual address by acknowledging that the land “we are on from our homes or schools is of the Dakota and Ojibwe nations,” whom she called the “original guardians of the country we now call America.”
“Let us acknowledge the pain of these indigenous people whose lands, lives, culture, and languages were stolen, taken, or destroyed,” she said.
She then took a moment of silence “to honor George Floyd” and invited her staff to kneel “as a symbol of solidarity with those fighting for racial justice.”
At one point Lewandowski claimed that America’s public education system “is not broken,” but is working “exactly the way it was designed to work.”
“White students do relatively well while their black and brown peers fail over and over,” she elaborated.
Lewandowski said she envisions a future wherein public schools will be renamed for people like Floyd, Jamar Clark, and Philando Castile. This would remind educators that “how people of color are treated in our society is often a matter of life and death,” she explained.
She proceeded to read a list of names of African American teenagers who have died while in police custody.
Lewandowski, who is white, became teary-eyed when she reflected on the fears of black and brown students, who know “their skin color will predict so many aspects of their lives.”
“I want our white staff to know: saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not enough. Being a white ally and being in solidarity with BIPOC communities is not enough. Protesting, signs, t-shirts, and Instagram posts are not enough. Treating everyone with respect and dignity regardless of race is not enough,” she continued.
Lewandowski said the district is “about to embark on a whole new level of anti-racist work,” which she called the “biggest priority for this school year.”
“If you are on the fence, have tolerated, or are indifferent to racial equity and anti-racist work, or think that this too shall pass, then 287 is not likely the right employer for you,” she concluded her remarks.
“If you want to engage in anti-racist work and are willing to interrogate your own beliefs and practices, have difficult but important conversations with your colleagues, and recognize aspects of whiteness like fragility and defensiveness within yourself, and understand that the success of our students reflects the quality of our collective instruction, then you know for sure that 287 is the place for you to continue your journey.”