RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A series of racial incidents at Wake County Public Schools this spring led the leaders of every school in the system to meet this week to discuss diversity.
About 180 principals and more than 20 central office staff members convened at North Carolina State University’s McKimmon Center for a “Beyond Diversity” seminar. Dr. Rodney Trice, the WCPSS Assistant Superintendent for Equity Affairs, said the focus is finding ways for teachers to encourage respectful talk about race.
“Usually when we’re talking about race, we’re pointing fingers. We’re blaming and shaming,” Trice said. “Today, and yesterday, was about how do you have that courageous conversation without the finger-pointing and blaming and shaming, and have it in a way that’s constructive.”
Trice said principals need to be prepared to go back to their campuses and lead conversations with teachers, students, and parents. He said teachers have an important role in shaping attitudes and cultural views.
Cary High School principal Nolan Bryant said schools have a responsibility to make sure students become productive citizens.
“Our role is not to usurp that of the parent or the church, but to complement it, and to offer exposure and dialogue,” Bryant said.
“Helping create a forum where we can discuss.those similarities and differences in a constructive way is the role we’re trying to take at a school level.”
He said a key takeaway from the past two days is understanding he has a particular perception of the world being a white man. However, other people have their own personal “lenses” through which they see the world.
Bryant said the seminar showed him he needs to be more aware of others’ experiences.
“I have to be willing to set my lens aside and try to look through somebody else’s lens, and see the world through their eyes, and their perspective,” he said. “As I’m beginning to make decisions and policies about how my school runs, I need to be more aware of the different perspectives that kids have.”
Incidents in the Spring semester included a black student slamming a white student to the ground in a Wake Forest High School hallway after repeated verbal abuse, an Apex Friendship High School student posting a Snapchat photo of the school’s step team with a caption comparing members to slaves, Leesville Road Middle School students making a video insulting many groups of people, and Wakefield High School students hanging a teddy bear with a rope around its neck atop the building.
“You can’t walk away. You can’t turn your head. You really have to face it, have those conversations, those tough conversations with your students,” Dr. Sandy Chambers said.
Chambers is principal at Hortons Creek Elementary School, and said it is important for children to be able to go to their teachers and express feelings of fear, loneliness, or threatened.
She said students need to know they are in a safe place to talk about things that aren’t in the curriculum. The Beyond Diversity seminar allowed principals to share success stories and suggestions.
“These conversations are powerful, they’re emotional, and you leave just thinking a lot (about) what can I do to really make a change,” Chambers said.
Trice, the assistant superintendent, said Wake County did not see any evidence of an increase in racial incidents in the schools this year. However, Trice said social media shined a light on some of the incidents and may give an impression of an increase.
“That still does not relieve us of the responsibility of addressing race. It’s a conversation whose time has come and we’re not going to run from it,” Trice said.
One principal said the Beyond Diversity training could benefit all members of the community, and encouraged parents and businesses to get involved.