Former Santa Rosa City School District superintendent Socorro Shiels, currently the Director of Education at the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE), has first-hand knowledge regarding student protests and walkouts. As part of a series profiling best practices for these situations, Shiels has some guiding questions for statewide administrators to consider as events happen in their community. Consider the following:
- How invested is your community in this issue? The emotional connection of the topic to your entire community is important to understand as you make decisions. For our community, many people supported both the walk out and the ideas behind it. The topic was raw, painful and divisive and there was no hiding from how it affected us all.
- How do your administrators know what is expected of them? The clarity of expectations for your staff is important so they proceed with confidence. Also, how will you provide clarity in terms of any expectations for discipline- or not- so there is consistency in a school and across schools these topics have to be discussed and agreements made?
- How will you parents and community understand what is happening? We wrote letters home to remind parents that these were not school sanctioned- meaning there was no supervision or transportation. We encouraged parents to actually participate in the walkouts with their children if this was an important topic for their family, so student safety could be guaranteed.
- How will you communicate with other community partners? For us, we had to have frequent, ongoing conversations with law enforcement as well as local advocates and organizers. With everyone, our greatest concern was student safety. Being on the same page is intentional and required previous relationships to ensure authentic dialog during this time of high emotion.
- How will you address the emotional needs of staff and students? While we quickly tended to the trauma for our students, I was slow in realizing the needs of all staff to weather the storm of emotion and anxiety. What support systems are in place to help people through the stress? What extra help is needed? What existing resources have to be redirected
- How will you keep education at the center of the conversations? While we supported the students right to protest, we also created as many opportunities on campus to speak and be heard and to make their feelings and opinions known, so they would learn that protesting is one option in a democracy and that there are others as well. Our protest opportunities lasted over a couple of weeks so the interruption to learning was compounding. We had to be intentional to reinforce the power of education in changing the topics that fueled the protests to begin with.
- For the sake of student safety- what are you willing to do? For one walk in particular, I was present as were other assigned administrators and community members. We weren’t participating in the march- but we were going to experience this event with students so we could keep them as safe as possible. We took some heat for appearing to support the protest cause or whatever other perceptions people might have had a the time, but we decided to err on the side of bearing witness to these events for the sake of our students’ overall safety and wellbeing. The board of education was kept in the loop and the decisions shared with staff and leadership as quickly as possible so we were all acting together to support our community in a time of need.
- How do you step back after this issue has passed to grow stronger as a system? We learned a lot together from that instance in Santa Rosa, and I brought with me incredible experiences from Morgan Hill. These events do not happen in isolation and we all see and experience different things. What can you do to debrief, acknowledge, appreciate, and learn together when this is over to be stronger for the next topic?
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