Support Wampanoag call to boycott Plimoth Patuxet

This is a popular time of year for school field trips to Plimoth Patuxet (formerly known as Plimoth Plantation), a living history museum portraying Colonial and traditional Indigenous life in the English settlement of Plymouth. However, in late summer, members of the Wampanoag community and their supporters began calling for a boycott of the museum for reasons detailed in this article, posted on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe website. From the article: 

“There were problems for a long time at the museum,” said Helme, “but the employees who hung on for years stayed because they were fearful of how Wampanoag people would be portrayed. We were afraid of how our story was going to be told if we weren’t there to tell it,” she said.

…interpreters such as herself were often reprimanded by museum officials when they shared historical facts from an Indigenous perspective. “We would inform (visitors) that the first Thanksgiving was actually celebrated by the English in 1636, after the massacre at Mystic,” Helme said. “Things like that would get people written up.”

…Pocknett, who worked at Plimoth Patuxet between 2010 and 2012 as an interpreter, and later as a manager and site supervisor, said she attended meetings with directors and museum officials where, she said, there was a direct intention to eliminate bi-culturalism at the museum.

REAL supports Leeds Elementary School Principal Chris Wenz, who—in collaboration with the Leeds PTO—recently made the difficult decision to cancel a planned third-grade field trip to Plimoth Patuxet, after learning about the boycott. Wenz wrote in a letter to caregivers, “The Wampanoag Tribe is calling for a boycott of the museum until they elevate the Indigenous perspective. We are supporting the Wampanoag by finding an alternative trip at another time this year.”

This decision puts into action our district’s stated values of inclusion and equity and the new social studies standards which emphasize U.S. history from Indigenous perspectives. Of course, planning a field trip of this scope required significant staff time and effort, and students and staff had been looking forward to the event. We believe, however, that this is a crucial learning opportunity. With the guidance of families and educators, Leeds third-graders can learn important lessons about historical and ongoing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. It also gives them an opportunity to stand against the racism that the Wampanoag tribe is experiencing and to prepare for an alternate field trip.

As we observe Native American Heritage Month, we want to encourage all schools and families to honor the boycott by refraining from visiting Plimoth Patuxet and instead considering other options, such as the Indigenous-owned Mashantucket Pequot Museum in CT or the Ohketeau Cultural Center in western MA. 

From a related NPR article, Kitty Hendricks-Miller, a Mashpee Wampanoag education coordinator, has been “encouraging teachers to reach out to Native communities directly if they’re seeking culturally and historically accurate programs.”

“There’s a level of understanding and respect that should be paid to us,” said Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Gay Head (Aquinnah) Wampanoag Tribe. “That is a minimum threshold that these entities should be doing.” (Cape Cod Times)

Shine On, Emma Martin!

“We need people who are problem solvers in the world.”  

Emma wants people to know that Northampton is not post-racial. She explains, “We’re pretty comfortable here talking about LGBQT+ issues but that comfort falls off when we talk about race. We need to come to terms with that as a community.” She says she is learning and making mistakes and is committed to repairing gaps in her own knowledge. “The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.” 

Emma is in her fourth year of teaching 6th grade math and literacy at JFK Middle School. She believes teaching math is social justice work. That it’s about showing kids they are capable of solving problems and empowering them to discover solutions. She wants every student to see themselves this way, as mathematicians and fearless problem-solvers.

Emma grew up in Northampton thinking she “was not a math person.” When she arrived as a freshman at Smith College, she was interested in studying medicine, but didn’t feel confident in her math skills. As a math teacher at JFK, Emma invited Smith mathematics professor Dr. Candice Price to talk with her middle school students; Dr. Price shared her story of being a first generation Black college student who ultimately became a mathematician, professor, and advocate for people of color and women in the STEM fields. Inspired by people like Dr. Price, Emma strives to create a classroom culture where students of color feel represented and confident that their ideas are powerful and that they have the ability to succeed. She aims to foster an environment where traditionally marginalized students are comfortable experimenting and sharing their “rough draft thinking.” Emma is now pursuing a MA of Arts and Teaching Mathematics and Leadership at Mt. Holyoke. She is interested in understanding how students learn math, how teachers can affirm students’ identities in math class, and how to help the school system do the best for kids.  

In her reading and writing classroom, Emma has used literacy as another tool for equity work. For example, she and her students read and discussed elements of Stamped from the Beginning and So You Want to Talk about Race. Emma created a timeline from 1619 to the present that circulated the classroom walls, and she highlighted the years of slavery to visually emphasize how little time we’ve had in this country without genocide. This particular unit aims to help students understand the ways that slavery and the history of racism continue to impact lives today. 

Emma believes that “we need people who are problem solvers in this world.” Toward that end, she engaged her classes in last year’s teacher salary negotiations, resulting in students writing to the School Committee to advocate on behalf of educators earning a living wage. She also invited students to take an inventory of their classroom library and report on gaps, which included  texts by and/or about people who are disabled,  AAPI and transgender. With the help of High Five Book Store in Florence, they then made a wishlist and caregivers generously purchased books.

When asked if there is anything else she wants our community to know, Emma emphasizes, “We need to amplify the work and voices of people of color in this district. Their work continues to be undermined, under or unpaid, and erased.”

With its “Shine On” series, REAL spotlights educators, caregivers, staff, and students who are using their energy, creativity, and heart to build community and dismantle systemic racism in Northampton Public Schools and beyond.

Shine On, Sabrina Hopkins!

Sabrina Hopkins believes there is more work to be done to make Northampton High School a place where students of color like her feel safe and embraced. For example, Hopkins would like to see more classes that teach about and draw on the experiences of people of color. She would also like structures put in place to ensure that assignments are accessible for students who don’t have personal computers that can get around blocked material on school-issued chromebooks.

A junior at NHS, Sabrina has already been hard at work on these systemic concerns as the leader of the Student Union’s Anti-Racist and Bias subcommittee. As part of this subcommittee, Sabrina has pushed for curriculum changes that would allow more NHS students to access diverse and representative courses. For example, she advocated for courses like Black History and Modern Middle East to be offered every year rather than every other year.

Sabrina has also been active with the school’s Students of Color Association (SOCA), which has given her the opportunity to connect with peers outside of the classroom. This year she is serving as the co-vice president of the group.  Participating in SOCA has been especially important because she is often one of only a few students of color in her classes. For Sabrina, SOCA has been “a space to make connections and talk to other people about what their experiences have been as students of color in NHS.” What she’s learned from these connections is that, despite the equity and social justice work being done in the Northampton schools, not all students of color feel welcomed or safe. This has motivated Sabrina to keep working and to take on new roles: this year she is serving as president of the Student Union. 

While she has embraced this new, big role, Sabrina is also a believer in the power of small moments and personal relationships. She says her goal each day is to “do one little thing that’s gonna make school a bit better for people of color and more safe.” She feels that sometimes conversations about race and racism can become too abstract, especially in Northampton where the percentage of people of color is small. Sabrina believes that the social and emotional components of equity work are crucial. “This type of work is deeply personal and social,” she says. “It doesn’t just mean reading a book or writing a paper and being done, it means making connections with people in your community.” Sabrina brings this deeply human approach to all she does at NHS.

With its “Shine On” series, REAL spotlights educators, caregivers, staff, and students who are using their energy, creativity, and heart to build community and dismantle systemic racism in Northampton Public Schools and beyond.

Update on interim superintendent hiring process

On July 12, in a public meeting of the Northampton School Committee, we learned that Dr. Jake Eberwein declined the offer to become Northampton’s interim superintendent. Based on what was shared, he declined due to a desire to continue his consulting work. 

We are happy to announce that the committee unanimously voted to offer the position to Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell. We encourage everyone to watch the 30-minute recording of the vote and discussion that led up to it. It has its sobering, frustrating moments as well as some moments of brave vulnerability and grappling with how white supremacy was an underlying thread in the original vote and decision-making process. We thank Member Emily Serafy-Cox for requesting that the School Committee focus on anti-bias/anti-racist training at its next retreat, and we thank Vice Chair Gwen Agna for granting that request.

We are crossing our fingers that Dr. Pearson-Campbell accepts the position. In the meantime, though, we encourage the following: 

  • Community members to attend the School Committee’s open office hours, led by Vice Chair Gwen Agna the first Tuesday of each month at 4:00 p.m., to continue sharing reflections, needs, and other feedback on equity and healing in our district. Note that Gwen Agna communicates the locations of these sessions and related updates on her Instagram and can also be emailed for information. The next session will be held next Tuesday, July 19, at Hampshire Heights in front of apartment 19C (rescheduled from this week due to rain).
  • The School Committee to: 
    • Confront and reflect on the interim superintendent hiring and decision-making process. The School Committee has verbally committed to shifting our district’s culture and operations to be grounded in restorative practices–this is an important moment to start doing that, at a leadership level. One idea is to invite the Collaborative Resolutions Group, which is respected across Massachusetts as an organization steeped in conflict resolution and restorative practices, to facilitate a listening session that includes the School Committee and interested community members. 
    • Add open office hours that fall outside of daytime work hours so that more community members are able to attend.
    • Begin strategizing and planning ways to hear from and emphasize the voices of students, staff, and community members, particularly those of color, in the permanent search process to ascertain what people most need and want in a leader right now.
    • In response to the district’s recent hiring of an outside group to analyze our poor track record of hiring and retaining teachers and staff of color, publicly release those findings and hold facilitated dialogues internally and with interested NPS stakeholders (community members, staff, students) about actions/solutions based on the findings.

Response to interim superintendent vote

REAL is disappointed, saddened, and angered over the Northampton School Committee’s recent decision to not offer Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell the Interim Superintendent position. The recorded interviews with the three finalists and the dialogue and decision-making that followed offer a case study in the nuanced and pernicious ways that systemic racism and white supremacy culture operate. 

Our district has spent a good deal of time talking about equity, inclusion, healing, and anti-bias education; about our poor track record of hiring and retaining teachers and staff of color; about the urgent need to have children of color see their brilliant and strong selves reflected in and by the adults surrounding them in school; and about the need for white children to see that white people aren’t the only ones who get to be in leadership positions. 

And yet on July 7, 2022, our district—when presented with an abundantly qualified Black woman with 22 years of education experience, recent experience as an assistant superintendent during one of the most challenging times in public education, glowing references that spotlighted the most necessary elements of strong leadership, and an expressed commitment to emphasizing student voices, equity, healing, and collaboration—chose not to take action that backs up its talk. We chose to not hire Dr. Pearson-Campbell, after committee members praised her and wrung their hands over how tough the decision was. The all-white committee instead offered the position to a white man, Dr. Howard “Jake” Eberwein. 

Northampton failed here. Rather than just sigh, shake our heads, and move on, REAL requests the following: 

  • We ask that Dr. Eberwein, to honor the crucial work of anti-racism, decline the offer of interim superintendent and instead show support for Dr. Pearson-Campbell’s candidacy.
  • We ask that the School Committee offer the position to Dr. Pearson-Campbell, who noted at the July 7 meeting that she was available to start immediately. 
  • Regardless of the outcome of the above, we ask that School Committee members commit to engaging in anti-racist training and use this recent experience to inform dialogue, among themselves and with interested members of the NPS community, about ways that white supremacy culture played out in the hiring process and how future processes might protect against it. 

For more about how NPS community members have been impacted by the School Committee’s choice, we invite you to read some of the emails being sent to School Committee members.* We also encourage those who weren’t at the July 7 meeting and who haven’t viewed the recording to do so.

[28:52 to 1:03:18] Dr. Jannell Pearson-Campbell interview
[1:13:55 to 1:47:48] Dr. Marlene DiLeo interview
[2:00:30 to 2:44:08] Dr. Jake Eberwein interview (note that the beginning is cut off)
[2:54:10 to 4:13:03] School Committee in conversation about the interviews and vote to hire Dr. Eberwein

Finally, please tune into the School Committee meeting tonight at 6:30 for the next decisions on the interim superintendent hire. Zoom log-in info and the agenda are here.

*Please let us know if you would like us to add your own email to the School Committee to our running document.