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Head's Corner, October 21, 2014
Greetings CMS Families,
I hope that you are healthy and happy. Often we are so consumed by our daily routines that we barely take time to care for ourselves. Last week, I had the pleasure of taking some time off to do just that. I attended my niece’s wedding and then was whisked away to New Orleans for what I thought was a girls’ trip with my sister. I was convinced that after a year of wedding planning that we would just eat, drink and be merry poolside.
Instead, once we arrived I felt “bamboozled”, “hoodwinked” (tricked). She was there for a Diversity Conference and she thought I could benefit from attending some of the sessions with her. Diversity is my life. As Beyonce would say “I woke up this way.” Why on earth do I need to attend any sessions about what I live every day. The first session was about everyday bias in the workplace. The presenter Howard Ross, Founder and Chief Learning Officer of his own consulting firm, described himself as a builder of innovations in the field of diversity and inclusions and a unifier of people, organizations and causes. He described how biases in the workplace are often agreed upon qualifications based on a particular background. He also discussed the neurobiology of bias. According to Ross, “to accelerate success, organizations must integrate diversity and inclusion into every function, system and relationship.” It was fascinating.
The following sessions throughout the week would be equally powerful and inspiring. Throughout the week I reflected on our organization and diversity efforts. I have been very strategic about addressing diversity. It is certainly a value of mine but I did not want to be accused of “pushing my own agenda.” That “own agenda” phrase is often code for diversity, especially when the leader happens to be diverse. Diversity is also a value at CMS. It is one of the main reasons I chose this community. During our strategic planning process three years ago, our community expressed that diversity was important to us as a school.
There are many ways to define diversity but for the purpose of keeping it clear and transparent, at CMS we define diversity in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economics. Much work has been done in an effort to embrace diversity. We have since doubled the number of people of color and openly gay and lesbian staff. We increased the financial aid budget from nine to as high as fifteen percent. We have also expanded same sex families, families of color and families from various religious backgrounds. We have diversified our Board, the vendors and consultants that we use and talk specifically about diversity in Admissions meetings, classroom placements, hiring, and the list goes on.
This intentionality may seem trite, however, it is representative of the larger community in which we live. The reality is that we still live in a world, even right here in multi-cultural Cambridge, where race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and religion matters. Just a few towns over, parents are outraged that their children were taught about Islam and the Williams sisters (Venus and Serena) were referred to as “scary” by a popular tv host. We view these random acts of insensitivity as an opportunity for us to prepare our students for a world that is ever-changing.
When I arrived at CMS, I was so impressed by the international community, which also adds diversity. I wondered if we could expand diversity by attracting families from North Cambridge, or more same sex families or simply families from multiple faiths. Despite our efforts, we never completely arrive. But that doesn’t mean we stop talking about it and acting upon it.
In a recent school culture survey, when asked if the CMS community values and celebrates diversity, a teacher said “I know it must be true, but I admit that i haven’t seen as much explicit evidence of it at all staff and school events. For instance, I haven’t heard the word mentioned by anyone publically in relation to a committee or event as yet. It doesn’t seem like a top priority.” I realized that my behind the scenes commitment to diversity isn’t enough. Nor is the value statement listed on our brochures. Howard Ross got me fired up. He and Damon John, entrepreneur and host of the Shark Tank, gave me my mojo back. I have a responsibility to advance the mission of Cambridge Montessori so, technically, diversity is my agenda, Board approved.
When I see your children interacting with their “intentional” classmates and faculty and staff, it gives me hope that diversity will be a value that their generation not only understands but embraces. My trip was both relaxing and rewarding. I am very encouraged and I could not think of a better place to roll up our sleeves and engage in authentic conversations that yield tangible results. This will make our community healthier and happier. Have a phenomenal week!