METCO update: ‘This district will do better’

Metco 3
June 16, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer (photos courtesy of Carols I. Perez, J.D. Metco Director K-12 HPS)

The Hingham Public Schools district has participated in the METCO program for more than 50 years.

METCO is a state-funded grant program that promotes diversity and educational opportunity for thousands of students from Boston and other areas in more than 30 Massachusetts communities.

School Committee Chair Michelle Ayer and Supt. of Schools Paul Austin attended a June 5 METCO gathering in Hyde Park, which addressed racism.

Ayer started off last night's School Committee meeting with the message that she took away from that event -- which she called "powerful and somber" but also a call to action: "a call to action to fight racism; to instill in HPS students compassion and understanding; to educate HPS students and ourselves on racial injustice; a call to action to do better."

Austin said he was "moved and inspired and incredibly honored to be standing with my colleagues from participating districts at the gathering. Hingham has a longstanding tradition of participating in the METCO program. My commitment is real."

While acknowledging that there is a lot of work to be done and that HPS has a great deal on its plate at this time, Austin said there's nothing more important than this issue right now. "We will address it as a community, and we will make progress. I'm committed to making a difference. That will be one of my major objectives [for the 2020-2021 school year]."

Below are Ayer's remarks:

"In the wake of the protests that erupted around the world following the murder of George Floyd, METCO President and CEO Milly Arbaje-Thomas’s address at the event hit me with force. Milly graciously offered that I could share her remarks and so, with her permission, I share excepts from her speech with you tonight:

'I turn today to the leaders of the 33 communities in Massachusetts where METCO exists. I join you in asking for a radical change in business as usual. A radical mandate that each and every day you will work on creating an equal, just, welcoming, and safe environment for our students of color. That you understand the power that you hold in your hands in the positions that you were given and how that power can redefine how your school community raises the next generation.

For the students of color that you are educating, have you done everything you can to make them feel safe and included? For the white students that you are educating, are you sure that they are growing up to be compassionate and accepting human beings; that they understand that differences are to be valued and that there is beauty in all human beings?

Do they understand the injustices that came before us and those we are living now, especially in the black community?  And, are those students breaking apart from the vicious cycle of racism, bigotry, bias, stereotypes, and discrimination?

Because if this is not happening, then we are drastically failing [our students and our community] at creating a brighter future for us all.

I urge you to not just sign on the dotted line that you are participating and supporting a school integration program but stand behind that signature, roll up your sleeves, and get prepared to do real action and to do the hard work.

Hold yourselves, your community, your staff, your suburban students, and their families accountable to do what is right to make this society a more welcoming and inclusive place to live and thrive.  You can't just say you DO school integration. You need to DO school integration.

Let’s make sure we don't lose the opportunity to fulfill the job and mandate that we were all given to leave no child behind and to educate and support all children.  We can do better; we must do better—'"

Ayer continued:

"This was Milly’s call to action.

Now, here is my call to action: THIS district will do better.

Bias exists in our schools. Stereotypes exist in our schools. Racism exists in our schools. This is not political—this is not ideological—this is not opinion. This is fact. It is an uncomfortable fact --but a fact nonetheless. And it cannot be ignored.

People of color should not need permission to be seen. To be heard. To belong.

We must demonstrate to our students of color that they belong. That they are safe. That they are welcomed. That they are a vital part of the Hingham Public Schools. That they make our schools a richer place. They belong.

For our METCO students, we have an even higher bar to set. There are over 400 school districts in Massachusetts, and just 33 districts have the privilege of hosting a METCO program. It is an HONOR for Hingham to have this program, and we need to begin treating it as such.

The METCO program is about bringing diversity and new perspectives to our town —and make no mistake -- this program provides far greater value to the students of Hingham than it does to the students of Boston. We need to acknowledge that. We need to recognize that our METCO parents put a tremendous amount of trust in us when they put their children on that Hingham school bus each morning. Can we say that trust has been earned? Because if we are not doing everything we can – every single day -- to earn that trust, than we are failing our METCO families and robbing our own community of an incredible gift.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve spent some time speaking with Milly, Dr. Austin, [Asst. Supt.] Dr. Jamie [LaBillois], members of the faculty, students (current and former), and community members and developed some very early steps we can get to work on:

  • I ask each of the School Committee members to read "So You Want to Talk about Race" to ensure we are considering our students of color when we make decisions.
  • Provide robust and frequent anti-bias and anti-racism training to all of our staff -- not just teachers, but also central office staff, custodians, resource officers,  bus drivers — anyone who is working with students or is making recommendations/decisions on behalf of students.
  • Include a cultural calendar alongside the school calendar so that staff and families know when holidays and celebrations are observed. Ensure our holiday, exam, field trip, and other school events take these holidays into account.
  • Require a monthly report from the Equity and Inclusion Working Group to be presented at School Committee meetings and posted to the HPS website, Facebook page, etc.
  • Review classroom, hallway, cafeteria, and lobby décor to ensure we showcase the work and words of black and brown artists, scholars, teachers, etc., so that we are reflecting what the world outside Hingham looks like.
  • Ensure that our METCO families can access their child’s classroom for special events, presentations, book reports, celebrations, etc.

I know there is much more serious work that our faculty and our administration can do to enhance our curriculum, our class offerings, our hiring practices— so I present these ideas as just very simple things that the School Committee and the community can do to start making the changes that we must make.

And I know the work of the district is already overwhelming and that our staff is stretched too thin. And resources are too tight. And the burden on schools is already too heavy.

And yet.

The work has to be done.

So, we will not just sign on the dotted line. We will DO school integration. We will not lose the opportunity to fix what is broken. We will roll up our sleeves to do the work until every student in this district is treated like they belong here."

Ayer ended her remarks by expressing regret "that it has taken so long to make this statement."

School Committee member Carlos Da Silva expressed appreciation for Ayer's remarks. "Thank you for your words of wisdom. As a person of color living in Hingham, it's great to hear we are being proactive."

Hingham Unity Council Steering Committee Member Katie Sutton said during the teleconference meeting that if she was in the room with Ayer she would be "standing up and clapping."

Sutton asked for an update about the HPS Equity and Inclusion Working Group, which is charged with developing an Equity and Inclusion Plan for launch later this year.  The team is composed of educators and administrators from all levels (elementary, middle, and high school), and representatives from the central office and is chaired by Assistant Superintendent Dr. James LaBillois.

The asst. superintendent, who was on the line for the meeting, gave a progress report of the group's work -- which he said has been on pause due to COVID-19 -- to this point.

"We'll be dusting off [our work so far] and holding a discussion tomorrow {Tuesday] as a group as to what the next steps will be, working around the pandemic," he said. "We will be defining our vision and putting together a professional development program for our faculty to engage them in the conversation."

One participant in the meeting asked that biracial students be included, and with regard to the schools in general, another resident asked whether it would be possible to charge homeowners with houses valued at over a certain amount a surtax to supplement the school budget.

Another parent suggested that Hingham take a look at similar programs other towns have in place and adopt their best practices.

LaBillois explained that the working group is consulting "with people who do this kind of work in other districts with more diverse populations than we have about how to have the conversation about privilege with privileged people.

"We will examine the HPS intervention and support systems, do an institutional analysis of our readiness, and focus on celebrating diversity in our schools," he said. "We have the ability and desire to really engage in challenging conversations about race and differences. We want to be sure we're funding the right programs to support the right students." The working group has also talked about recruiting teachers of color for HPS.

This needs to be a community effort, Ayer said. "It's very important work."

1 thought on “METCO update: ‘This district will do better’”

  1. As a former Spanish teacher in the Quincy Public Schools, I am well aware of what schools can accomplish when they have the energy, commnity support and political will to be an agent of change. I commend Michelle for her honest evaluation, her thoughtful insights and her timely challenge to do better. Thank you, Michelle, for sharing this experience with us and asking all of us to be a part of this change.


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