Ferndale schools symposium focuses on diversity, building relationships

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 8, 2013 

On Wednesday, Dec. 11, all Ferndale School District employees will be attending our first symposium sponsored by Ferndale School District's Multicultural Advisory Committee. The symposium will host speakers, give voice to student's stories and provide an opportunity for district employees to listen, talk, reflect and learn from one another about what it means to be a culturally responsive school system. As a member of the committee hosting the event, I can say that the committee holds paramount the idea that the best way to nourish and strengthen relationships is by encouraging courageous conversations among diverse members of our Ferndale community who often hold very different views. Committee members work on hearing and really understanding the various narratives that comprise our community. They know our diversity is our strength. They know this isn't easy work. They believe that, through this process of listening and questioning, we can create a better environment for all of our children and their families.

I've been an elementary teacher for more than 13 years, and now I am the new interim principal at Skyline Elementary. Over the years, I have learned a great deal about the process of education. One of the things I've learned is how much I don't know. At Skyline Elementary, we serve a multicultural student body, a microcosm of Ferndale, nothing new. A disproportionate number of our minority students (e.g. learning-disabled, Native American, Hispanic, and so on) do not make the same academic progress as their peers, nothing new. I could espouse new programs, systems or axioms to understand or solve this disparity; but, as some of my predecessors have noted, such "things" haven't gotten the long-term results we want. They haven't closed the gaps. Therefore our school district is trying a different approach, a more difficult one, an approach based on understanding and relationships.

Real, lasting change, the kind of change that will make a difference for our children, happens within ourselves, not in the new programs, systems or axioms we create. Lots of things change in education, but the constant core is made up of relationships. It's about students, families, teachers and community.

As a new school leader, I am recognizing more than ever the importance of relationships. I am also realizing that I can't build meaningful relationships without genuinely relating to and understanding those I serve. Understanding results from opportunities to listen, question, reflect and create new meaning. Before I can help my community create a system of learning that equitably and powerfully serves their children, I must understand the community and the children I'm serving. Perhaps the answer we are looking for is the place we are looking from. I'm proud of the people I work with on our committee for their dedication to taking on this meaningful work. I'm proud of the Ferndale School Board for starting the Multicultural Advisory Committee. I'm also proud of our Ferndale school district employees for their willingness to build new meanings and improved practices based on new understandings of the multicultural community we serve. The symposium on Dec. 11 is a significant step in this process.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Tipton is interim principal at Ferndale School District's Skyline Elementary.

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