[From an email sent March 16, 2022]
Dear School Committee Members and Superintendent Provost,
We, along with the broader community, have been watching recent exchanges at School Committee meetings about the shift to embedded honors in math courses at NHS. We have also read Susan Voss’s collection of Principal Vallaincourt’s correspondence–and we feel compelled to comment.
First, we want to clarify that, contrary to what’s in an email from Principal Vaillancourt on page 199 of Susan’s compilation, REAL never endorsed the shift to embedded honors in math at the high school.
Second, we want to express our disappointment at Principal Vallincourt’s urging of a colleague to “keep talking equity and they will be in our camp.” This use of “equity,” seemingly as a buzzword to persuade stakeholders of her position, devalues the actual work of equity and the many people across our district who are committed to it. And while we acknowledge there could be context around this quote that adds some nuance, the statement certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Reasonable people can have different approaches to achieving district-wide equity, but all such approaches must involve respectful, inclusive, and transparent discussion.
We also read in the recent Gazette article that the move to embed honors in math has been in process since 2015, and yet it appears that the School Committee and caregivers only became aware of that change in 2021. Perhaps some of the tension and misunderstanding about the shift could have been alleviated with greater transparency and substantive engagement with all stakeholders over the years.
For REAL, the recent conflicts strongly underline the need for a deep investment of time and resources into restorative practices (RP) in the district. We believe that the RP approach to community building and conflict resolution is foundational to a school district that honors the dignity of all students and adults–and we can see how, in our current climate, taking a dedicated, well-funded restorative practices approach could give all parties a chance to be heard, accept accountability as appropriate, and move toward healing when people cause and experience harm.
As such, we fully support the RP funding that Superintendent Provost discussed in his recent budget proposal, to enable NPS stakeholders to develop a robust and sustainable plan for ongoing training and implementation of restorative practices across the district. And in the nearer term, one RP-aligned move that could be implemented by district leaders is to provide the NHS Student Union, and other students as applicable, with “restorative response” resources due to how they have been drawn into the conflict over embedded honors. It would likely be useful for these students to be part of a facilitated process during which they could debrief recent events and construct, together, a path forward. We would be happy to connect with you further on what this support might look like.
This is a tumultuous time in our world and district. We deeply appreciate all of your dedicated work in navigating with care, compassion, and inclusivity.
The REAL Coordinating Team