Consultant: Better communication necessary in Frontier, Union 38 anti-racism efforts

  • Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 2/11/2021 8:59:54 AM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Better communication is going to be necessary for the sustainable, systemic change many hope to see in the anti-racism efforts in the Frontier and Union 38 regional school districts, one Frontier alumna says.

“From my perspective, it feels that Frontier is a school with anti-racist classrooms,” Amanda Mozea told the Frontier School Committee Tuesday night. “How can we transition from individual teachers and individual classrooms doing this work, to making this systematic?”

In an update on the Anti-Racism and Equity Committee, Mozea — who was hired by the district last year as a consultant to the committee — said the group recently held two open discussions attended by about 30 participants each time, and sent resource lists to all schools to be used as a “road map” for bringing anti-racism lessons into the classroom. Additionally, professional development days are scheduled to begin again in March.

At the elementary level, Mozea added, she is working with two other anti-racism consultants, who are focusing on revamping the curriculum.

“Instead of outsourcing audits to check for representation and diversity, we’re doing that in-house,” she explained. “We’re learning how to fish, if you will.”

Looking forward, she told the School Committee the new Frontier logo will be unveiled at the end of the month, and that two new electives will be added to the curriculum next year — one on African American history and another on media activism and social change. The current logo has a feather for the “F.” In 1998, the school’s team mascot was changed from the “Redskins” to the “Red Hawks.”

“There’s a lot of updates, and that’s a lot of really powerful work that’s happening and a lot of movement that’s happening,” she said. “It feels like a lot because it is a lot.”

Still, Mozea told the School Committee that while change is happening, it feels “superficial.”

“(Anti-racism) is not simply electives, and it’s not simply mascot changes,” she said. “It is asking what are our priorities as a district and ensuring we are following through, and that is difficult.”

In particular, she said, there is need for more professional development on identifying micro-aggressions — intentional or unintentional statements that communicate a negative attitude toward a marginalized race or culture — and understanding what the policies and procedures are.

Referencing a study put out by the Policy and Procedure Anti-Racism Committee (one of four subcommittees of the Anti-Racism and Equity Committee), Mozea said 46% of survey respondents were not familiar with procedures the administration follows when a racist incident occurs; 47% were unsure of how consistent the procedures among staff in the building are; and 25% said there is not a consistent application with procedures across staff.

“That is indicative of a broader problem that needs to be addressed and communicated out,” Mozea said.

Acknowledging several public comments read earlier in the meeting — all but one of which requested increased efforts in building an anti-racism school community — Mozea also said there’s a “clear need for open communication with various stakeholders inside and outside the community.”

“There are all of these parents who do not know what is being done, who do not know what is happening … and that’s an issue,” she said. “There needs to be more communication, more clarity.”

Culture doesn’t change in pockets, she said.

“All of these teachers are doing these things, but they’re not talking to each other because they’re not sure who is doing what,” Mozea said. “Our capacity together is greater than us doing this work individually.”

Superintendent Darius Modestow, who expressed frustration that the information presented in public comments didn’t first come through administration or leadership of the anti-racism group, said he felt there is more coordination happening than was suggested Tuesday night.

“I think I’m also going to hear a lot of frustration that there is a lot of work happening at Frontier, by teachers, who are working on things,” he said. “I’ll raise my hand as being the leader of this district — we have not communicated out all that’s happened.”

He said the change happens with the instructor first, who then can bring it into the curriculum.

“That’s how we’ve set it up,” he said. “Some of these small things have to be in place in order for the whole system to move as well.”

And Modestow argued that there is, indeed, communication happening between teachers. Mozea agreed there is “great work” being done and that it shouldn’t be under-emphasized.

“The fact that it is happening in cohorts like the social studies department — like eighth grade, like the science department — still speaks to a fragmentation that leads to miscommunication, which leads to people believing that there is not work being done,” she said. “The simple fact that people think there is not work being done is indicative of a problem.”

Frontier School Committee member Missy Novak asked how the people who are engaged in anti-racism work can be accessible to those with concerns, as well as available for updates outside a School Committee meeting.

“I don’t think this has to be the only time people get updates about this work,” she said.

Mozea suggested providing contact information on the school website, or the possibility of creating a community newsletter — which Modestow also considered — to disseminate information.

Novak agreed that is a good place to start.

“I also think that’s how change from the school trickles into the community so that we can make sure the values we hold strongly as a school system also trickle into the folks who end up in the school system,” Novak said.

The work on anti-racism efforts in the Frontier and Union 38 regional school districts is just a starting point, according to Mozea.

“As much as we’ve done and as difficult as it’s been, this is just the starting line,” she said. “The systematic changes that occur after all of you have left School Committee, after I am long gone from this district, is what we have to be thinking about.”


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