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A Note from Principal Tony Byers: January 2019

Dear Families,

The winter season begins with coziness, holidays, and the excitement of the first real snow. And then the excitement wears off by mid-January, somewhere between the third major snowstorm and second round of the annual winter stomach virus. But until then, winter is a time for inward reflection and gratitude for what the warmer, more productive months have brought us. However, finding gratitude is not always an easy task in a world and at a time when collective anxiety is more likely to prevail over collective optimism, and with good reason. And schools are not set apart from the world. Children arrive at our front door trailing adult concerns, no matter how hard we try to protect them.

This is why, with a half of the school year behind us, I’d like to pause and recognize, with gratitude, the strengths of our community. And because so many of you filled out the family survey last year (highest rate in the district!), I have data to back up my own impressions. On the family survey, families responded to questions in three categories: School Climate, Parents as Partners, and Barriers to Engagement. In all three categories, families reported generally positive experiences at Graham and Parks. For School Climate, eighty-seven percent of responses were positive, with particular strengths in the school valuing children’s backgrounds (94%), staff respecting students (91%), students respecting staff (92%), and students enjoying coming to school (89%).

The same was true for Parents as Partners, with eighty-four percent positive responses, including our approach to sharing information with you about your child’s learning (89%). In the Barriers to Engagement category, families reported that Graham and Parks is welcoming to parents (94%), communicates well with people from various cultures (95%) and provides information about involvement opportunities (91%). When families reported fewer positive responses, it was generally a matter of degrees, with responses in the low to mid eighties rather than the high eighties or nineties. For example, our lowest percentage was that twenty-three percent of families reported that one barrier to engagement is school staff seeming too busy, which doesn’t come as a surprise to our very busy staff.  But it’s important data to have, nonetheless.

Of course there were a small number of families, about five or six percent, who reported less positive experiences, and we’re digging into the comments to get a sense of why that might be. It’s important to us that all families are heard and that we can have conversations about our differences, which brings me back around to gratitude for our community. We are a diverse community, which is the greatest source of our school’s strength. But this strength is not a given; you have only to listen to the national news to hear concepts of diversity and inclusion used to sow fear and mistrust, to drive people apart, rather than bring them together. Despite what we might like to believe, Cambridge isn’t so different from the rest of the nation. The same forces at work outside our city are alive and well within it, perpetuating inequity and elevating some voices above others. While our survey results were not perfectly representative of our community, they weren’t far off, so while I appreciate the many kind words families wrote, I’m especially grateful that so many families had faith in our school to hear them. A diverse community that can engage in this kind of respectful, honest, and inclusive dialogue is a diverse community that can grow together… even during the coldest months of year.

Best, 

Tony