Social Justice and Academic Excellence

July 18, 2016

“I’ve been asked repeatedly, “do we really need to include those other issues if our goal is to improve education?” My response has been “other issues?” As if any of us live compartmentalized lives where our hearts, minds, and bodies are only impacted by one institution at a time.”  –Chris Stewart, “It’s time education reformers admit life and death isn’t an “other” issue”

Spurred by the horrifying killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five Dallas Police officers, education leaders across the country have once again called on their colleagues to look squarely in the eye at a few truths: structural oppression of Black people in America is real; we cannot achieve academic excellence without acknowledging and addressing concurrent issues of poverty; and the privileged among us have an obligation to interrupt and intervene if we are to eradicate systemic racism and oppression.

In addition to Chris Stewart’s piece linked above, many of us at NSNO, have been inspired by Sharhonda Bossier and Layla Avila, who, in “No More Sidelines”, call on educators to acknowledge that all of the effects of poverty – not just underperforming schools – must be addressed if we are to achieve equity.  We hear Iffy Offor Walker who, in “The Silence of Our Friends”, calls on those of us in positions of privilege to be allies.  And we hear Jonas Chartock, who, in “Statement on the Connection Between Teacher Leadership & Race in America” reaffirms his organization’s commitment to dismantling racial inequity.

All of these are worth reading.

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Conversations about race in America are not new, and they are not new to education circles.  We acknowledge, as an organization, we did not previously engage in this conversation with the urgency and intention which it required.

NSNO’s mission is to deliver on the promise of excellent public schools for every child in New Orleans. We remain steadfast in our pursuit of that work, but know that it will not, by itself, eliminate the tax of structural racism students and educators of color pay each day before they even walk through the school doors.

We work at NSNO because we believe that excellent academic preparation is critical to achieving social justice.  But we acknowledge that excellence and equity for all will never be achieved unless we simultaneously address other institutions in our community that perpetuate oppression where it persists: in housing, economic opportunity, and criminal justice. We have the responsibility to continuously ask ourselves, our colleagues, partners, and our community how we can ensure our school system actively seeks to dismantle structures that may prevent students from actualizing their incredible potential.

We are fortunate to have partners across the city, and the country, who have pushed us see how social justice and education intersect. Over the last couple of years, we have begun to understand our role in confronting these issues—both externally and internally. This year, 5 members of our team were selected by their peers to lead a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee charged with identifying areas where we have either unsuccessfully or inconsistently lived out our own diversity statement. This committee will also be leading the change effort within NSNO to address those shortcomings. This work is challenging, but we are committed to doing what is necessary to fully embody diversity, equity, and inclusion. We welcome feedback and partnership on how our organization may continue to grow in this regard.

We stand by the families and loved ones impacted by last week’s violence.  We stand with our colleagues — those within our organization and outside of it – who are still hurting.  And we stand with the schools, the students, and the families of this city, who together must navigate both the academic hurdles of the coming year and the world as it currently exists — and who together will prepare our children to demand the world that they deserve.