I write to you today with a heavy heart and a shared connection of grief and pain with most people in our country.  Grief over the horrific death of George Floyd and pain from what I see happening in our cities and communities since his death.  So many times I have said to people, ”I understand where you are coming from,” which implies that I know about their life, their families’ life history, and the generational experiences of their race.  The truth is that I will never be able to understand the collective effect of their experiences, and I should not and cannot say that anymore. 

Superintendent Bret Towne

As I contemplated a public response to the senseless death of George Floyd and the subsequent calls for justice, I keep circling back to one word – “belonging.” We work hard in education to ensure that students and staff feel a sense of belonging and that relationships are built on mutual respect for one another.  Providing that assurance of belonging is not just our job as educators, it is our moral obligation as human beings. However, in watching the events of the last several days unfold, it is clear that many in our communities have never experienced an authentic sense of belonging either where they live, work, or attend school. That is a painful, ugly truth each of us must acknowledge and work to change.

Our mission statement in Edmond Public Schools is to “empower all students to succeed in a changing society.” To me, the most important word in our mission statement is “all.” We must ensure that we are providing all students fair and equal access to robust academic programs, quality teachers, and extensive resources. Moreover, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that all students, no matter their race, color, national origin, sex, religion, or disability, develop a deep sense of belonging. We never want the 40 percent of our students who identify as a minority to say they “attend” school in Edmond; we want them to feel like they belong. Anything less is not acceptable.

I am proud to work for a district that has taken numerous steps to end discrimination including providing professional development for staff on unconscious bias, building belonging, and equity for all. We have also addressed education equity in our strategic goals by pledging to assist individuals or groups who have been underserved and under assisted either in academics or in activities. 

But we need to do more…much more. Moving forward, we need to earnestly commit personally and collectively to continue to take action for change.  For change to happen, we have to agree to evaluate our actions, listen to the words we say, and refuse to ignore the bad choices of others. Additionally, it is important that we honor and recognize not only differences in students, but also differences in backgrounds and cultures.  This will require everyone’s empathy, forgiveness, compassion, and action. For the sake and future of our children, I am willing to walk this path. I hope you will join me.