Ongoing School Climate Work

I am writing to share our continued collective efforts to improve the climate and culture of our school. We have two main goals in mind as we progress on this initiative. First and foremost, we want our school be a safe place for all of our students and faculty. In doing so, we are also preparing our students to fully participate in the greater community outside of South, and to understand how to actively contribute to and protect safe environments as young adults.

Last year, Newton South students responded to a survey designed to gauge the prevalence and frequency of the use of hate speech in our building. An analysis of the results, conducted by students, found that many students did hear hateful and biased speech used regularly. Results also showed that many students found the South community to be safe and respectful. However, the majority of students agreed that we can do more as a community to ensure a positive and inclusive culture and climate at South.

Following an analysis of the survey, students developed suggestions of action steps we should take as a school to reduce the use of hurtful language and build a more respectful environment. One student proposal was to conduct a follow up survey to better understand where the examples of hateful speech were occurring and how we could better respond as a community. Students recently took this new survey in English classes and, over the next few weeks, will participate in a lesson in history class to interpret and analyze the results. Over the course of this year, building on the work from last spring and this fall, students will participate in four workshops that seek to make our community stronger and more supportive of all students.

As I reported to you last year, one of the most difficult concepts for our students to understand is the difference between intent and impact. Many students have shared that they would like their INTENT to be the determining factor on which their words and actions are judged. They worry that defining hateful speech based on the IMPACT of that speech on others would eventually limit their freedom of expression.

Building a community, however, requires that we care about and give value to the experiences of others. I worry that our public discourse and care for each other is becoming more polarized, and that our current political process is both the result of and further exacerbates the distance between “us” and “them.” I fear it is becoming normal to view people who don’t think like us or believe what we believe to be devoid of value and importance. It is crucial, in my opinion, that we actively combat this disruption of our civic fabric with positive actions that bring us all closer together.

It is our hope that these surveys, follow-up lessons, and conversations will help our students to better understand the impact of their words and/or actions on others. It may be helpful for you to have a conversation with your child to discover how they are experiencing South and to offer support. It is our goal to build a community celebrating the differences among us that ultimately contribute to a vibrant, strong, and creative learning environment.

In closing, I want to reassure you that we take any incident of bias or discrimination on our campus very seriously and follow established protocol in documenting, reporting, and responding to any incident.

As always, please contact your child’s guidance counselor or Dean if you have information to share, or if your child should need additional support.

Thank you for partnering with us.