This is an OpEd from Noble’s CEO, Constance Jones.
This is the work.
We started this school year with a call to our staff to get in good trouble as we aspired to become an antiracist organization. And, it appears we have gotten in some good trouble. In classrooms and in professional development meetings, in all-staff gatherings and individual conversations, we’ve collectively continued this intensive self-examination and reflection in the pursuit of becoming an antiracist organization.
WBEZ shared an article this weekend that captured some of that story, and I’m glad they did. And, to Noble staff and students and families, we know that this story has been in progress for some time.
We’ve been doing this work. From our commitment to Diversity Equity and Inclusion as a core value in 2016, the establishment of our Diverse Leaders Fellowship in 2018, to adjustments to our dress code and student code of conduct in 2019. The focus on culturally responsive teaching as a core piece of our Noble Classroom framework. Adjustments to our promotion policy to ensure we retain the most students possible, leading to the highest student retention in our history this year. Our 2019 strategic planning process named equity as the top priority for the next five years and resulted in various supports to high equity campuses. The evolution of our board of directors in the past few years. Our DEI steering committee’s work to create and launch Noble’s anti-racism commitment earlier this year which built on a DEI listening tour with our alumni last July.
This story isn’t new and it isn’t over yet. There’s more work to be done and I am certain there will be times we fall along the way in our pursuit of becoming an antiracist organization. Our commitment to anti-racism includes dismantling systems and policies, while working with our entire community to reconcile our past, and create a new path forward. No reconciliation will be comfortable, nor should it be. Seeing some of the responses of alumni and former students to the article has been heartbreaking. But, this is the work and we won’t back away from doing what’s right for students and families.
I’d encourage all organizations – in Chicago and nationally – to consider similar introspection. All of us, especially those of us who are responsible for the education of our children, must reflect on how we have played a role in perpetuating racism within our walls and in Chicago. The sad reality is that most organizations do not take on this work of justice and reconciliation because it is either too hard, too uncomfortable, too risky, or too fleeting. Many organizations claimed to be antiracist upon the murder of Mr. George Floyd, but as the officer’s trial started just last week, we must ask ourselves: What have those same organizations done over the past months to demonstrate their commitment to anti-racism? Has that work been performative or transformative?
At Noble, our examination of the disparate outcomes of our Black boys has led us down a path of community-led improvements to our promotion policies and student discipline. I hope we ask similar questions collectively as a city, why do only roughly 1 in 10 Black male students in Chicago go on to earn a bachelor’s degree? Why does the University of Illinois at Chicago graduate white students at a rate of 66% but Black students at a rate of only 54%? Why is 71% of the NPR newsroom still white? Why are Chicago Police 14 times more likely to use force against Black men?
These aren’t easy questions and I imagine there aren’t easy answers. But, this is the work.
We will continue to ask our own questions at Noble – how can our mission, vision, and values, better match the aspirations and hopes of our students and families? How can we continue to improve our hiring and retention practices so that our staff, 61% who identify as people of color, continue to grow more reflective of the communities we serve? How can we double down on the arts and culturally responsive teaching to ensure that our student’s experiences are equitable, positive and transformative?
We will continue to ask ourselves the hard questions, look for the best answers – driven by inclusive and equitable processes. We will reconcile in ways we’ve fallen short and commit to being better.
The fact is that we all have engaged in places that perpetuated racist systems. This is the reality of living in the United States. And, it is on us to do the hard work of understanding where we have been complicit, own our mistakes, and work to improve.
We don’t back away from the work because an article may make us uncomfortable or because it means sharing something from our past that we are not proud of. We keep going because that’s who we are, who we are becoming, and what students and families deserve. I hope WBEZ’s coverage doesn’t end with a single story, because our work certainly doesn’t.
The Noble Network of Charter Schools serves over 12,700 students across 18 charter public schools in Chicago. Noble aims to ensure all students have equitable and positive school experiences that equip them to succeed on the path of their choice, leading to 75% of alumni completing college.
With love and high expectations, Noble guides students through the college application process and is known nationally for innovations in alumni support. MIT researchers and U.S News & World Report have recognized Noble for extraordinary performance. The Noble Class of 2020 earned more than $500 million in college scholarships and more than 15,000 college acceptances. Learn more at www.nobleschools.org.
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