Guest Opinion: District needs a culture shift

I am writing to wholeheartedly support the election of Kamilah Long to the Ashland School Board.

I recognize the current School Board members are collegial and respectful of one another and of the community. In my recent attendance at School Board meetings, I see caring and concerned citizens on the board — and attending the meetings! Yet this is a time to turn up the heat in the face of painful problems at Ashland High School, with frequent occurrences of hate speech and hate actions.

This is not the safe and welcoming environment all our students deserve, and it is not showing leadership for the long-held belief fostered by our Constitution: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (sic) [persons] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and which governments and governmental bodies are created to protect.

I am a clinical psychologist, with significant experience working with organizations to make a needed culture shift. As a Rose Circle Mentor, I will be involved with students at Ashland High School in the coming school year. This is just one of many ways I can work to co-create the healthy environment needed by students at AHS.

As a relatively new community member to Ashland, I am aware of many sound and wise community members and School Board directors. This is not a time for blame-and-shame. But this is a time for taking visible action and modeling a strong moral and ethical stand against ignorance, bullying behavior, uncritical (possibly unconscious) racism and addressing the evident lack of the skillful communication needed to cross the great divide of otherness.

Our students need to see the school authorities taking seriously the need for inclusion and diversity at every level of the school district. Integration of a talented and multi-skilled School Board director onto the board — who has experience teaching, working in multi-ethnic organizations and with programs to enable schools to make the required cultural shift — will be an important signal to the students, the school district and the community. With Kamilah Long on the School Board, we concerned citizens will work with the board and make the shift to a safe, welcoming environment in the school for minority students and help shape future leaders who will surpass our history (and presence) of racism, exclusion and separation.

As background, I understand the Ashland High School Site Council began work in 2015 on an Oregon Education Code: Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. It appears to be on hold at a time when concrete goals and accountability measures are sorely needed. I am hopeful the School Board will add Kamilah Long to its team and work closely with the new superintendent to launch such a program.

Select Kamilah Long for the School Board. She has the background and consciousness we need today on the Ashland School Board.

— Lauren J. Oliver, Ph.D., lives in Ashland.

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