March 25, 2021

Dear Watkinson Community,

Watkinson is at a critical moment in our 140-year history with regard to our work on addressing the impact systemic racism has had on the country, our city, and our school community. While the nation continues to grapple with inequity on a broad scale, we understand that as an institution we must continue to look inward as well.

The focus for Watkinson’s anti-racism work was set forth in our strategic plan, The Shape of Things to Come, and further explicated through the eight commitments articulated in our July 2020 community letter. These commitments were adapted from the National Association of Independent Schools’ Principles of Good Practice for Equity and Justice, and adopted by Watkinson in June of 2020 through our work on our pandemic Re-Opening Plan. With a goal of transparency, we have sent updates on our progress toward them, one in September and another in November. These eight commitments have been, and will continue to be, our guide as we navigate our anti-racism work. This communication serves as a third update.

Since early February, Dr. Martha Brackeen-Harris has joined the school as Equity and Social Justice Consultant to support and guide our ESJ work. Dr. Brackeen-Harris is well known within and beyond the Watkinson School community for her work as a longtime educator, leader, and Diversity practitioner. Currently on leave from Watkinson’s Board of Trustees, Martha served as head of Watkinson’s middle school in the late 1990s, the first Black division head in the state. Martha is working with Watkinson’s Senior Leadership, faculty, staff, students, and parents; partnering with us to continue the work we’ve outlined for the year, and assisting with the search for our new Director of Community, Equity and Inclusion. The search will commence this month, with the new Director to begin in the summer. 

Beginning on April 10, we enter a new and exciting period of work on our goals and objectives toward becoming a more inclusive community when a team of 15 will participate in the Pollyanna Inter-school Conference, “Climate of Belonging: Challenging Our Past to Reimagine Our Future”. The conference, to be hosted (virtually) by the Westover School, brings together members from 15 school communities to share experiences and gain insights, ideas and perspectives. First through sharing across constituent groups based on roles, and then by coming together as Watkinson’s team, the conference sets in motion the basis for our eventual strategic plan for community and belonging. Beyond the inter-school conference, Watkinson will engage Pollyanna, Inc. for a two-year arc of work to include an intra-school conference for the Watkinson community, to be held in the fall of 2021. This Watkinson-specific experience will lead to the development, deeper articulation, and more-detailed plan on how we achieve lasting change toward our eight commitments to becoming a more inclusive and anti-racist institution.

Over the past weeks and months, John Crosson and I have begun and will continue to have meetings with students and colleagues to listen, learn, and share the school’s plans and actions. We have also met with our parents in order to communicate what is happening at the school with regard to recent events and the work we are doing this year to fulfill our promises as outlined in the eight commitments.
Through our conversations, we have come to understand that some do not see enough action, enough response, or enough concrete steps forward, and we believe this is because our work has been quiet and, all too frequently, siloed in teachers’ individual classrooms, small discussion groups, and in meetings with leadership. Unwittingly, we have overlooked communicating our progress effectively across all levels of our school community, leaving a void in terms of shared information, vision, and understanding. To make our tactics since last June more transparent, we have created a Equity and Social Justice Timeline of our work which will be continually updated.
In an effort to break these barriers and work toward a more communal approach to the betterment of Watkinson, this message is an accounting of the work we have prioritized over the past six months under the leadership of Teri Schrader, our Senior Leadership, former Director of Equity and Social Justice Skyler O’Neil ’15, our Equity and Social Justice Committee, Department Chairs, and members of the faculty and staff. They are concrete and tangible steps we are taking right now to fulfill the commitments we made publicly to you, to our families, and to the greater Watkinson community. This document expresses where we stand today, and the plans we have for continuing this important work. 

As we make our way to the final months of the school year, we do so with determination and our fullest commitment to being a truly inclusive community, a school where a sense of belonging is real and experienced by all.

All my best,

Teri Schrader
Head of School
Watkinson School |