The Case for This Work:

The undercurrent of racial unrest around us is palpable and polarizing. It is a pot that is simmering one day and boiling over the next. It is both a stark and subtle reality of life today. It is a critical dilemma that we, as independent school leaders, must confront. How do we navigate the path forward while managing our already full plates? What guidance can we glean from our school’s mission, vision, and core commitments, and how do we assess the climate of our community and readiness for change?

Consider one elite independent school after another that found itself on the front page of the New York Times or as the lead article in the Atlantic. This is not easy stuff and, no matter how much you invest, how much you care, how hard you work, how fast or how slowly you proceed, there will be casualties...even if you do nothing.

If you do nothing, you choose to protect the school’s heritage. That path may honor the contributions of school founders without whom your school would not exist and reassure an important segment of the school’s community that the status quo is not in danger. For other schools, choosing to do nothing may simply be a strategy to avoid any more changes or attempt to regain equilibrium after more than a year of pandemic volatility and uncertainty.

Increasingly, however, thought leaders across the academic spectrum see this as a defining moment for independent schools. They see it as a time when, more than ever before, the choices we make with regards to racism in our communities will determine who we are, what we stand for, and who belongs in our schools for decades to come. There will be successes for those that choose to navigate into this space and successes for those that choose not to. There will also be failures. Decisions will be both moral and operational and the journey will have schools at both ends and sprinkled along the spectrum.

Deciding to participate, as a school, in the NCAIS course, “The Bottom Line: Cultivating Communities of Belonging” does not presuppose your school’s place on the continuum. In fact, a guiding principle of this course centers on each school’s mission, culture, community, and readiness for conversation and action. One size does not fit all and there is a place for all NCAIS schools that choose to participate. The pre-course module is for heads, boards, and senior leaders. It focuses on practical, operational strategies and building understanding, and offers a rationale for functional changes. It also provides a Readiness Audit which will allow school leaders to determine the next steps. For some, the pre-course module will be both the beginning and the destination. For others, it will be a launchpad to varying degrees of both personal and institutional self-reflection and growth that are a part of the core modules.

Scope of This Project

This work is to be viewed through the lens of each school’s mission and vision. While many of the concepts and ideas may be applicable to all definitions of diversity, this course exclusively addresses racial diversity, an identified concern for many independent schools across our network.

The course will not be in a prescriptive format but will include required material as well as a menu of additional content that can be chosen by individual participants. It will feature more than 40 speakers who are currently working in the DEIJ space. We feel it is important for there to be shared experiences and a common language as well as opportunities for choice and self-navigation. Each participant will be building a portfolio of work that can then be used to inform and direct their future steps in DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice).