Springfield, MO—On Friday, Springfield Public Schools will pause to celebrate Juneteenth, the oldest national commemoration of the end of slavery, by reflecting upon and honoring its promise.
On June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, word finally reached Texas that the Civil War had ended and all those who remained enslaved were free. This incredible moment of celebration has been followed by 155 years of ongoing pursuit of inalienable civil rights and equality under the law.
While our nation has achieved significant progress in its pursuit of equal justice, the events of the past few weeks are important reminders that we continue to fall short. This especially turbulent time magnifies the ongoing systemic injustices that far too many continue to face.
In early June, our students returned to school for virtual summer learning as part of Explore. To help answer questions about current events and address concerns, our equity and diversity team shared resources for educators to help prepare them for conversations and be ready to lend support. SPS also shared resources for parents to help address these issues at home.
To achieve justice for all, we must act against injustice together – both individually and collectively. SPS acknowledges the deep wounds caused by systemic racism and its continued impact on many of our students, staff and families. As part of our district’s collective action, we remain committed to listening, to learning, to better understanding, and to taking transformative steps that make our school district better for all those we serve.
In fact, equity and diversity are at the heart of our work to ensure our schools are inclusive and welcoming to all. We recognize that there is room for improvement within our district and we have taken the following actions.
Our first Chief Equity and Diversity Officer, Dr. Yvania Garcia-Pusateri, now leads a team focused on closing gaps and expanding opportunities for underrepresented and under-resourced students. An Equity and Diversity Advisory Council of more than 30 community members has completed its review of our work and presented recommendations for continued enhancements. The Board of Education has approved an addition to our district’s strategic plan: Focus Area 5 - Equity and Diversity. Our goal is to create and sustain learning environments that support equity and diversity through the development of staff, expanding a diverse workforce, enhancing academic supports and culturally relevant curriculum, and promoting increased engagement and advocacy of underrepresented and under-resourced students. SPS has an Equity Champion assigned to every school. These professionals are focused on sharing input on equity issues, providing resources and other support for students and families, and contributing to staff development. While not all staff have the official title of “Equity Champion,” every staff member has the professional responsibility to advocate for equity and are evaluated accordingly. All SPS staff completed diversity training in the 2019-20 school year - including “Facing Racism” for district leadership. This valuable training will continue in the 2020-21 school year. A more diverse workforce is critically important. To support this endeavor, the FY20-21 budget includes resources for a new workforce coordinator and a “Grow Your Own” program that encourages students of color to pursue future careers in education. We have intensified our focus on improving graduation rates and closing gaps in academic achievement. This includes the addition of graduation mentors, community liaisons, attendance supports and more robust tutoring programs. We are committed to removing barriers in transportation and have completed an audit of our current system. Initial steps have already been taken to expand busing for elementary students in the 2020-21 school year. Access to technology remains a priority for our district. In addition to providing a learning device for every SPS student, the district has invested in additional hotspots to ensure that all students have access to reliable internet service at home.
The promise of Juneteenth propels us forward. We must never be idle nor satisfied with the status quo. We must remain focused and speak with clarity: There is no place for racism and it will never be permitted.
To all those who have been marginalized and oppressed; to all who are experiencing increased sadness, fear, anxiety, frustration and anger following recent events; please know that you are valued and welcomed by Springfield Public Schools. You belong here. Our diversity makes us stronger and each SPS staff member is called to serve as a champion of equity on your behalf.
On Juneteenth and always, we honor your identity and your lived experience.
Dr. John Jungmann
Superintendent of Schools
Dr. Yvania Garcia-Pusateri
Chief Equity and Diversity Officer