Principal Freeman Kicks Off Family Equity Council

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Principal Freeman Kicks Off Family Equity Council

The Cleveland Family Equity Council meets on the first Tuesday of each month, in the Cleveland Alumni Conference Room.

The Cleveland Family Equity Council meets on the first Tuesday of each month, in the Cleveland Alumni Conference Room.

The Cleveland Family Equity Council meets on the first Tuesday of each month, in the Cleveland Alumni Conference Room.

The Cleveland Family Equity Council meets on the first Tuesday of each month, in the Cleveland Alumni Conference Room.

By Alex Cheriel, Reporter

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Friday, April 2 marked the first meeting of the Cleveland Family Equity Council. This group was started by Principal Ayesha Freeman in order to start a dialogue between administration, students, and parents to address issues related to race and hate speech at Cleveland.

Present at the meeting were Freeman, Vice Principal Darryl Miles, four parents, and three students. Parent Mark Takiguchi acted as group facilitator. Takiguchi has two decades’ experience working in higher education, and has become interested in the topics of equity and inclusion.

Takiguchi envisions the group to be a place where “we can have brave conversations, we talk about real issues, we’re straightforward but also respectful, and we acknowledge people’s different perspectives and experiences with this kind of content.”

Principal Freeman is fully on board with the plan. “I’m hearing from students and parents that we need to come together and we need dialogue to address the issues that have come up this year, these issues being the symbols of hate and racism that have been occurring,” she said. In particular, the defacing of a Jewish Student Union poster with a swastika became a primary focus of the conversation.

“I don’t want to make decisions in isolation with just my school leadership team,” Freeman continued. “It’s going to take the whole community, it’s going to take the families and students to add some perspectives and really figure out what our next steps are.”

Vice Principal Darryl Miles agrees about the importance of community involvement in equity work. “I’ve come to learn that this work cannot be isolated to just the staff. You have to have families involved and incorporated because it has to continue once students leave the building,” he emphasized.

The group agreed to follow the four protocols of the Courageous Conversations About Race program. “These agreements are not meant to hem us in, but they’re meant to make us feel like we’re all starting from a common place of dignity, of respect, of speaking for ourselves, rather than speaking for the group,” Takiguchi explained.

The four protocols are Stay Engaged, Experience Discomfort, Speak Your Truth, and Expect and Accept Non-Closure. The group also developed an agreement to honor any requests of confidentiality made by community members who may otherwise feel vulnerable sharing personal stories.

Initial discussion centered on the desire for a larger and more diverse group. Increasing awareness is one necessary measure. Takiguchi also suggested the need to examine “the barriers that we may unconsciously be holding that prevent people from feeling that this is their space too.”

Then, the group watched a video produced in 2016 by students at Grant High School about the importance of having conversations about race. Afterwards, several meeting participants shared ideas and thoughts.

“In our building, that’s one of the things we can help work on, is increasing the exposure and knowledge of other cultures so kids can develop. I think if they can be educated more and understand more, then (hate speech) will decrease,” Miles said.

Parent Jackie Weissman offered a professional take. “I’m a documentary filmmaker, so I was really inspired to see that the video was student-made,” she said. Weissman suggested that the Cleveland Digital Media program might be interested in a similar project.

Throughout the meeting, several participants suggested that a partnership with other existing groups would be beneficial. These groups include the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), the Cleveland Alliance for Racial Equity (CARE), the Site Council, the Teacher Leadership Team, and the Cleveland Climate Team. Each organization has different objectives and priorities, and this group may act as a liaison, collecting ideas and streamlining systems and protocols aimed at addressing equity and hate speech at Cleveland High School.

In particular, the Family Equity Council plans to collaborate with the Climate Team. This group is made up of six teachers, counselor Nick Yoder, Student Success Advocate Charles Hunter, and vice principals Darryl Miles and Kristy Mize. They are developing simple lessons so that every teacher can begin a dialogue about race in their classroom. “The Climate Team is going to help those teachers who may not be as comfortable talking about race,” Miles said.

Eventually, the discussion shifted from equity and inclusion to communication related to equity issues. Senior Lyle Altschul expressed a desire for improved avenues of communication between students and administration. “I know a lot of us are very concerned about these issues of sexual assault, violence, and hate speech, and we would like to have a direct line of communication with the administration and the people responsible for making these changes,” he said.

Freeman responded to the request. “I want my students to feel supported and cared for and to know that I am aligned with them and that I care deeply about these issues,” she stated.

Freeman went on to mention various modes of communication that have gained momentum this school year. This includes emails to students via Naviance, emails to parents, emails to teachers to be read aloud during class, the weekly Warrior Update video, and Flex Time with Freeman, a monthly open discussion between administration and students, the next of which will be held on May 8. Each avenue has its benefits and drawbacks, but together Freeman hopes to build a more effective communication system.

Everyone is welcome to attend the next meeting of the Cleveland Family Equity Council, on May 7 at 6 p.m. in Room 224, the Cleveland Alumni Conference Room. Topics to be covered include drafting a mission statement, goal-setting, and developing a method for introducing new-comers to the group.

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