Reflections from NP Cultural Proficiency Leaders

Reflections from NPSD Cultural Proficiency Leaders


Photo of Dr. Jenna Rufo and Dr. D'Ana Waters
Dr. D'Ana Waters, NPSD Director of Curriculum and Equity
Dr. Jenna Rufo, NPSD Assistant Superintendent


 

6/1/20, Letter from Dr. D'Ana Waters


Dear North Penn Community,

As I reflect on the latest traumatic event, I am overcome with mixed emotions. I, like many others, feel both sad and angry, but am also scared. I worry about my daughters because this country has proven over and over that those of us with Black and Brown skin continue to be seen as less than by some of our White counterparts, and in 2020, that sickens me.

Mothers naturally have an instinct to protect their children, but those of us with Black daughters and sons have to pray for their children in a way like no other. My heart especially breaks for Black boys because every time they leave their homes, there is a fear and real possibility that they may not return. As my girls get older, I’ve become what my oldest has termed “nervcited.” I am excited for all that the world is supposed to offer, but nervous they may encounter the racist people who do not value the life of someone who looks like us. My White colleagues and friends have the luxury of not having to worry about this burden.

Fortunately, we live in a neighborhood where my girls have a great time hanging out with their White friends and I have just as much fun with the adults. We are comfortable talking about anything and everything. While my girls feel safe here, they are learning that the real world is not like our little cul de sac. My soon to be junior has already experienced microaggressions at her high school. When she leaves for college in a couple years, these indignities will persist and I won’t be there. I worry about my girls, niece, nephews, friends, and North Penn students.

Last fall, I accepted the position as NPSD Director of Curriculum and Equity after serving as principal at our district’s most diverse school. It was an honor to go to work in a school where respect, acceptance, and relationships were at the forefront. The students, who came in all shades and spoke many different languages, were always smiling. The teachers and staff held high expectations, connected with kids, and celebrated their differences. For those reasons, it was hard to leave, but I wanted to make an even greater impact by serving all students in North Penn.

One of my responsibilities is to co-chair our Cultural Proficiency efforts with Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Jenna Rufo. Jenna and I are colleagues who became friends along the way. Our lives are pretty parallel in that we both have two girls, are district level administrators, and received our doctorate degrees from the same institution. Although it was evident pretty quickly that we see the world in a very similar way, the reality is that the world sees us very differently.

Our committee is working hard to ensure that all students in our district know that they are valued and making concerted efforts to improve our practices. We have a small, but mighty parent group who also advocates for our students. We have a group of amazing high school students who are ambassadors of change and I could not be more proud of our young people. Despite our efforts, we know that so much more has to be done. Many of our Black and Brown students have had some pretty awful experiences and that is not acceptable. School should be a safe haven for all students just like my cul de sac is for my girls.

As a mother and an educator who oversees equity initiatives, I am committed to doing all that’s in my power to ensure that students understand their worth and know they matter. Systemic changes have to be made and that will not happen unless we are all in. It is no longer enough to be non-racist. We need you to be anti-racist and to continue having courageous conversations that foster fairness in our schools and communities. We need you to stand with us.

Sincerely,
Dr. D'Ana Waters, NPSD Director of Curriculum and Equity



6/1/20, Letter from Dr. Jenna Rufo


Dear North Penn Community,

Two years ago when I assumed the role of Assistant Superintendent, I was charged with leading the district’s “Cultural Proficiency” committee. It was a task I readily accepted because if I am being perfectly honest, up until that point the committee had been a lot of talk and not a lot of action. A group of mostly white educators would sit in a conference room once a month lamenting the inequities in education for our Black and Brown students, we would host a few events each year, and then everyone would return to their normal activities feeling slightly better about themselves for “raising awareness” around the topic of race. I knew in my heart that this was not enough.

Yet, as a white woman, I doubted my ability to lead this committee on my own. I asked my friend and colleague, Dr. D’Ana Waters, if she would co-chair the committee with me and she agreed. I remember discussing my request with her, wondering aloud, “Can a white leader really understand and fully represent the lived experience of our students and families of color?”

Over the next few years, and now more than ever, the answer to that question is undeniably “no.” I cannot, nor will I ever, understand the experience of what it means to be non-White in this country. While my colleague, D’Ana and I share many similarities, our experiences are quite different.

D’Ana and I are both Cabinet-level administrators in the same school district. We earned our doctorates from the same university. We are both mothers of two girls and live in the suburbs. Strangely enough, our sisters both work for the same corporate giant in Philadelphia. Yet, there are some key differences.

I never have to worry that others think I was given my job as a “token” because of the color of my skin rather than through hard work and lots of schooling. When I take my girls to a store, we aren’t followed around by shop clerks or pulled over on our way into the parking lot. When I retrieve my mail each day, I wave to neighbors that look like me. And while I can talk to my girls about the senseless murders that have occurred over race, they can somberly nod their heads and then return to TikTok without worrying about their own lives being in danger.

I don’t understand.

However, not understanding cannot be an excuse. Not understanding isn’t a reason to turn my head and look the other way. Not understanding is not a justification for hiding behind my Whiteness and asking my Black colleagues to craft a statement for their community.

While I don’t understand, I know that what’s happening in the world is not okay. I know that the world is a scary place right now and that doing or saying nothing implies tacit approval. I know that I have privilege that has been granted to me by genetics and nothing else. I know that a failure to use that privilege to facilitate change is a failure of leadership.

I don’t have the answers but I make this promise. In this small little domain that is North Penn, I will speak out. I will advocate for practices that enroll Black and Brown students in AP courses at greater frequency than remedial ones. I will continue to develop opportunities for dialogue and training that help our staff examine their own implicit biases. I look forward to the day when having a Black, Hispanic, or Asian teacher is not an anomaly, but simply part of a student’s educational career. I will work to make North Penn a place where students of all colors feel welcome, valued, and respected.

I don’t understand but I care. I don’t understand but I will act. I don’t understand but I stand with you.

Sincerely,
Dr. Jenna Rufo, NPSD Assistant Superintendent