Support the Students 

By Bill Drake (As published in The Union)

I am writing in support of Ken Johnson (Dist. 5), Olivia Pritchett (Dist. 1), and Wendy Willoughby (Dist. 2) for our regional school board, all of whom have been unanimously endorsed by our local high school teachers’ association.

In addition to their each having significant experiences and skills that would make them great board members, I believe they will support the existence of healthy campus communities at our area’s high schools. Let’s look at a few of the candidates’ statements in light of some issues pertaining to healthy campus communities.

Ken Johnson, who has 38 years of teaching experience along with expertise in school budgets and reading programs, wants to ensure that “students feel emotionally and physically safe on campus.”

At last May’s NJUHS board meeting, students and parents described experiences of students being bullied due to race and sexual orientation. Speaking with considerable sincerely, feeling, and eloquence, they tried to get the board to improve school policies in order to provide more tools to teachers and staff who have to deal with incidents of harassment. This, in turn, would make students safer. What was a four-member board at the time split two to two and turned their request down. This was unfortunate. Board members are needed who will support school communities by adopting, or improving, when necessary, policies that protect the students’ emotional and physical well-being.

Olivia Pritchett, the vice president of the Nevada Union Parent Club, feels “that the students deserve a board member who will listen to them and take to heart their experiences as students.” This again brings to mind the May board meeting. Students have important perspectives and need to be taken seriously and listened to. They should be able to give input, or take part in, decisions that directly affect them. When they feel heard and are part of decision making, not only do they provide valuable input, but they also are more likely to support the decisions that result.

Wendy Willoughby, who has important skills due to her years as Managing Director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership, wants to “support programs that meet the needs and celebrate the gifts of all students we serve.” This brings to mind the importance of what is called “DEI” or “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

While taking efforts to achieve diversity in all segments of our school community (and the broader community) is essential, the “idea” of diversity relates to an appreciation for our differences, whether they concern race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, socio-economic status, national origin, or other things. Equity means everyone gets an equal opportunity, without bias, harassment, and discrimination. Inclusion essentially means everyone is welcome. All of this helps “meet the needs and celebrate the gifts of all students.” And in the process, we all learn from each other and everyone benefits.

It is essential that our schools have healthy campus communities where students feel safe and are valued. As board members, Ken Johnson, Olivia Pritchett, and Wendy Willoughby would work to achieve that.

Bill Drake was raised in the Jim Crow South to be a white supremacist, a perspective he rejected in his late adolescence. He co-founded Creating Communities Beyond Bias and is the author of Almost Hereditary: A White Southerner’s Journey Out of Racism, A Guide for Unlearning and Healing Prejudice.

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