Albany Middle School

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Letter from Principal- click here to read

Dear AMS Families,

In the wake of the social media attacks on the AHS African American students, dialogue has begun.  I've had the privilege of having many intense and heartfelt conversations with community members, parents of the targeted students, teachers, other principals, and students. The impacts are strongly felt and the pull to action is strong.

 

The most common thread I hear when I talk with parents is that this incident while large and startling is not isolated, that there are other incidents throughout elementary, middle, and high schools of racial remarks, and the feeling that not enough is being done, that the schools need to have a 0 tolerance policy, and generally need to do more.  In my heart, I agree that we need to do more because what could possibly be more important?  Common Core Math, Next Generation Science Standards, even the 8th grade I-Search take a back seat to creating a climate that students feel safe.  It is not only because that is a pre-requisite to learning, but also because in and of itself feeling trust and a sense of safety in the community you are a part of is important.

 

And, schools cannot do this alone.  In the middle school we get students for three short years.  Students come to us with a wide range of experiences from their homes, their lives outside of school, and their prior school experiences.  In those three years, our teachers work incredibly hard to build communities in the classroom, to take the time and vulnerability, no matter what subject they teach, to work with students by running lessons and having discussions on a wide range of topics including race and how we treat each other.  They volunteer their time during their own lunches to run clubs to help students to connect to one another and to school.  They engage in professional development to continue to strengthen their skills in responding to unacceptable remarks.  Our school district pays for a Safe and Inclusive Schools Coordinator to run programs such as Safe School Ambassadors and PEAK so that students receive training on skills to shape a positive peer culture from the inside out.

 

Yet this doesn't undo all of the negative prior learning and experiences that some students have had. This doesn't prevent 900 students from ever making bad choices.  Our goal with discipline is first and foremost to teach students so that they have an opportunity to learn and don't keep repeating the same bad choices.  Our second goal is for them to make things right with the person impacted by their poor choice. Often the name calling is two sided and both students find themselves in the role of target and aggressor. And our final goal is to send a message to students that certain things, including racially offensive name-calling is absolutely unacceptable at our school.  We want the student who said that to know that, we want the target to know we will stand up for him/her and protect him/her, and we want other students to have the opportunity to receive that message.  

 

Last year after studying the research that conclusively shows that suspensions don't change behavior, we worked to integrate restorative practices into our disciplinary system through a year long process with teachers, students of color, and parents of color.  What was created for our Behavior Matrix around Hate Speech is as follows:

 1st Offense:

  • Guardian contact
  • Research and written reflection about the specific area of hate
  • Restorative circle*
  • Make amends with group impacted
  •  Counselor referral

 

2nd Offense:

  • 1 day in-school suspension
  • Guardian + student conference
  • Research and written reflection
  • Restorative circle*
  • Make amends with group impacted
  • Counselor follow-up 

 

3rd Offense:

  • 1-5 day suspension
  • Guardian + student conference
  • Research and written reflection
  • Restorative circle*
  • Make amends with group impacted
  • Counselor follow-up  

 

Parents who would like to have dialogue about our process and consequences should feel welcome to reach out to me, as I would love to keep lines of communication open around this topic.

 

In summary, while I absolutely feel that schools can do more and that I hear this as a call to action, this cannot all fall on schools.  We must partner with families in supporting our students growth, in understanding the healthy use and monitoring of social media, in discussing race with our shared children.  I ask you in this time to reach out to Albany Middle School in partnership.  Let's see what we can do together. 

 

To this end we will host a middle school discussion with parents, staff, and students around the topic of race issues specifically impacting our middle school students on Wednesday from 5-6:30pm in the AMS library.  Please email Jasmine Rutherford at jrutherford@ausdk12.org, school secretary, to let us know you are coming.  While we appreciate RSVPs, even if you don't have a chance, you are still welcome to show up.

 

In community, 

Deborah Brill, Principal