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A Statement on Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism (ABAR) by Superintendent Dave Campbell

Liberty and Justice for All

August 5, 2020

George Floyd's murder has once again opened up the ugly underbelly of systemic racism that has existed in our land since about 150 years before we declared our independence from England and cobbled together the United States of America. We are living in the most tumultuous time since the 1960s. In my opinion, it is a time to seize the opportunity to improve our country for all people. We must truly adhere to our pledge of allegiance, which states our nation is to be "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It is an attainable ideal. We have come a long way, but we surely have a long way to go as a nation.

As the leader of KRESA (and former history and government teacher), I want to write on so many topics related to racial injustice. It is hard to choose just a few, but I will do my best to convey some key thoughts in the form of a Q and A and write more at a later date.

I'd like to start with the fact that we see our black and brown employees, students, families, and community members. Please know you matter a great deal to KRESA, and we respect, value and support you. We are grateful to work with you and know you are not okay with where we are in our country. Nor is KRESA.

Is KRESA an Anti-Bias/Anti-Racist (ABAR) organization?

Yes! KRESA put together an Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism (ABAR) team made up of employees from across the Service Agency. The ABAR team presented their plan to our board in August of 2015 and implementation began. We have steadily made improvements to our culture of inclusivity by doing the work, trying to learn what it is like to walk in the shoes of others, and having hard conversations. Our ABAR team is embedded in the organization and works the plan very well.

On October 15, 2019, our Board of Education adopted the following focus area and goals for KRESA:

  • Focus Area #1: KRESA cultivates a positive, welcoming, safe, and inclusive environment for all built upon Anti-Bias/Anti-Racist principles.
    • Goal 1a: 95% of staff remain engaged and satisfied in their work environments measured by the HUMANeX Ventures Cultural Assessment Index.
    • Goal 1b: Increase professional learning and training opportunities for staff of Anti-Bias/Anti-Racist principles as measured by process and demographic data.

Why is KRESA against bias and racism?

KRESA's core values were adopted by our Board of Education in 2014 after seeking agency-wide input from our employees. Our core values are:

  • Collaboration (We work together)
  • Innovation (We find a better way)
  • Compassion (We lead with heart)
  • Trustworthy (We act with integrity)
  • Respect (We value all people)

With values like these, we would be hypocritical to not actively oppose racism and bias and work to root it out to ensure justice and opportunity for all. Our values are our anchor, our rock that does not roll. We are surely not perfect. We will need grace, and we will need to give grace, but we hold our values up as beacons of light and expectations for all of our employees, so we do not lose sight of what is right and just.

What have we done to build a more just organization?

We have come a long way since our ABAR Team presented to the board in 2015, and we have a long way to go. I am embarrassed to admit that about 20% of our support staff employees are black or brown and only about 10% of our professional staff are black or brown. We'd very much like to better reflect the children and families we serve in our county. There is a massive teacher shortage, which will likely get even worse with the COVID 19 pandemic. We started the Targeted Assistance Grant (TAG) about five years ago to help some of our support staff earn their teaching certificates and are proud that we now employ some of them as teachers. Again, we have much more to do here, as it matters to kids that they have some teachers who look like them. Having a diverse organization helps students learn to work in multi-cultural settings and learn that though people may look different, we have much more in common than our differences as human beings. We applaud the efforts of the Kalamazoo Promise, Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Western Michigan University to develop programming to attract people of color into the field of education to address the ethnic disparities and massive teacher shortage. It will take many efforts to make the profession more attractive to young people of all ethnicities.

We have substantially updated our Human Resource recruiting, interviewing, hiring and onboarding practices to make them more inclusive of all people. We have trained over 300 of our employees with the ERACCE 2.5 day training that provides historical and cultural lessons about systemic racism and many other forms of bias. It traces our history, starting with the enslavement of African peoples and takes participants into 20th-century examples of systemic racism such as red-lining in housing laws and other forms of systemic racism and bias.

KRESA is an amazing organization with many departments and initiatives under one umbrella. When our administrators meet once/month, we have experts in early childhood education, special education, Michigan Works, Business Services, Career and Technical Education, etc. in the room. We focus on topics that are relevant to all of us. One of our main focus areas this past year was to learn more about the systemic racism that exists and how we can combat it as individuals and as an organization.

We are proud of what we've done as an organization, but there is much more to do.

What actions are we taking to become a more just organization?

KRESA is a large agency of about 700 employees who work across the education continuum performing services such as evaluating babies for special needs all the way to helping lead Michigan Works, which helps adults find employment. Our 20+ departments are continuing to improve their effectiveness and impact in many ways, including serving under-served populations.

For example, most of our Head Start staff are trained with the ERACCE training mentioned above, so we have a deeper knowledge and higher levels of empathy for children and families from all the cultures we serve. Our MyCITY program out of Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) is a career development program rooted in the premise that all kids deserve the opportunity to "see what they can be." Through paid internships, career exploration opportunities, project-based learning and 21st-century skill development, MyCITY provides over 500 of Southwest Michigan's youth this opportunity every year. A major goal of our Career and Technical Education (CTE) re-design is to develop better ways of attracting young people of color into Career and Technical Education programs as they are an under-represented population in these marketable fields. The CTE re-design is key to giving all kids the vision, skills, and hope that will help them excel in this complicated global economy.

We are designing a mentoring program to develop leaders of color and to better help leadership understand the challenges faced by employees who are black and brown. We just posted a Culture/Climate Consultant to help lead, train, and facilitate this important work. Our Administrative Team will continue to learn about systemic racism and bias when we meet so we can better understand and help change things that are not fair or just.

Our KRESA ABAR Leadership Team did an outstanding job connecting our core values to our ABAR work in this document. I fully endorse the great work they have done to help us live and work more truly to our values.

And more to come.

What drives me to pursue liberty and justice for all and Gives me Hope for our Collective Future?

I am fortunate to have had a sense of justice and fairness built into me from a young age. One of those builders is my Mom, who grew up in Nazi-occupied Denmark and still tells stories of the oppression and injustice she witnessed as a girl. Though our nation has 400 years of history of racial oppression, we also have many times in our history when we lived by the values we profess and fought to free people oppressed from totalitarian regimes around the world, such as in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. Our nation exemplified some of our finest values by fighting and winning the brutal Civil War to end slavery. A century later, we dug deep into the "better angels of our nature," as Lincoln said, and lived our values as our nation passed the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, War on Poverty, and Affirmative Action to try to right past wrongs. As we dig down deep into our nation's core values, we will find the compassion to listen, learn and figure out how to balance the scales of justice for all. C.S. Lewis said, "You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."

I am privileged to have been given many advantages in life by a wonderful family. I know I was born with unearned privileges. As a person of privilege, I wish all kids the same type of love and support so that they can maximize their potential in their time on earth. I know I cannot truly empathize with people who face discrimination, as hard as I try. However, I do know that as the leader of KRESA, we are committed to standing in the gap for those who have been deprived of equal opportunity under the law, as I believe the purpose of privilege is to lift up those who are less fortunate.

Where do we go from here?

It is past time that we look deeply inside of ourselves, our organizations, and institutions to root out injustice and inequality. Numerous organizations and influential people are seeing that now is the time for substantial systemic change to level the playing field for all people. One example of this in our community is a statement issued by Bill Johnston, an influential business leader (and a former history teacher).

Part of the substantial systemic change that is needed includes looking deeply at Michigan's system of public education, which continues to sustain substantial funding inequities in many parts of our overly complicated system of school funding. These inequities must be corrected to give all students outstanding learning opportunities to maximize their potential. I am optimistic and hopeful that we, as a state and nation, will seize this moment to bend the arc of the moral universe in the direction of justice so we can truly live up to our U.S. Constitution, which calls for "equal and impartial justice under the law."

I'd like to close with the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr., who said: "The time is always right to do what is right."