Why Am I Running Again for a Seat on the Board of Education
There is something special about White Plains
By Charlie Norris
It has always been my belief that the true mark of a society is how it cares for its elderly and how it educates its young to prepare them to accept the baton and carry things forward. History is replete with proof that a society that does not grow and evolve will, ultimately, wither and die. Education, like other critical aspects of a society, must grow and change so as to provide each succeeding generation with the tools it will need to thrive in its own time, not in the time of those that came before them. In this regard, maintaining the status quo is no more than a recipe for stagnating and falling backwards.
Horace Mann was an American educational reformer and slavery abolitionist known for his commitment to public education. He spearheaded what was then known as the Common School Movement, ensuring that every child could receive a basic education funded by local taxes. In 1848 he famously wrote, in succinct terms, “Education, then, beyond all other divides of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men — the balance wheel of the social machinery.” From those words public education became known as “the Great Equalizer”. From the time I was a young boy growing up in a very diverse school district with a father who was a psychologist/educator I have observed how education can lift people up from the lower stations in our society and enable them to pursue their dreams and achieve personal and economic stature denied to those not provided with similar opportunities.
All of that being said, at the beginning of the current school year I entered my 15th year on the White Plains Board of Education. However, it was actually the beginning of my 28th year volunteering, in one form or another, in the White Plains schools, including being a P.T.A. president at the high school. My fifth term on the Board would be coming to an end in June 2022 and my incredible wife, Annie, has been patient and supportive throughout almost three decades of community service. I would be 63 when my current term ended. Was it time to ride gracefully into the sunset or should I run again? That was the question. So, I began a period of soul searching, and had deep conversations with my family, friends, people in the school district, etc.
During this process of self-reflection, certain things came into focus and became clear. I recalled how one of the fundamental foundational reasons upon which I ran for my first term was to facilitate a dialogue and actions that would help everyone in the tapestry of our community feel comfortable at “our table”. I had experienced the dichotomy firsthand of those who verbally espoused the beauty of our diversity but, in practice, were not so comfortable. They believed that the presence of certain kids in our district was somehow dumbing down curriculum, robbing their children of opportunities and negatively impacting their children’s educational experience. While reflecting on this I realized, with some pride, how we have grown and evolved as a district. We have removed what had been longstanding barriers to honors and A.P. courses. Not by lowering standards of admission or reducing academic rigor, but by adopting programs such as AVID to provide uplifting support to all students in order to open doors and unlock the potential of kids who would not have previously been able to get into those courses. The proof is plain to see. At high school graduations the tapestry of the seniors wearing the yellow rope of the National Honor Society, as well as other colored ropes and medals from other respected organizations, is now certainly more reflective of the demographics of our student body. Nothing has been dumbed down. Nothing has been taken from anyone. It is just that now, more kids have an opportunity to thrive and pursue their respective dreams.
The issue is really one of equity. Not how equity is being defined by those stoking fear that, again, somehow there will be a taking from some and giving to others. No. Not at all. The equity work the district has undertaken over the past few years, and for which it has received national recognition, is about meeting the needs of every kid where they are. It is about meeting the needs of the highflyers. It is about meeting the needs of kids in the middle, and about meeting the needs of the kids who are struggling. It is about growing internal capacity so that, whenever appropriate and possible, we have been able to bring back into district our White Plains kids which special needs who had previously been shipped elsewhere. It is about providing opportunities so as to unlock the potential of every one of our kids.
We are not perfect in White Plains. No place is. However, there is an amazing ongoing collaborative effort amongst the administration, teaching and non-teaching staff, students, parents and other stakeholders to evolve the district in thoughtful and meaningful ways to better support our students and their families, as well as our staff. For example, the coming school year will see the high school change from the two historic houses (North and South) to include a third house, East. The purpose of this change is to create smaller supportive communities where each student is assigned to multiple adults, including counselors, administrators, etc., so that each student feels supported and knows where to turn for help.
All of this is part an effort to educate the whole student, including academics, social-emotional learning, and health and well-being. We have learned from the lessons taught by the pandemic. We have learned how many people in our community are food insecure, and we now have schools with food pantries. We are exploring opening up health clinics in schools (at no cost to taxpayers) so as better to serve our community. During the pandemic we were better positioned than many surrounding districts, and we again received national recognition for same. Specifically, because of technology initiatives started before the pandemic, every student in our district had a tablet (ipad) and, through partnering with the City and Verizon, every student had internet connectivity. As such, our students and their families were not impacted by the digital divide experienced those in other districts.
These new initiatives, as well as many others across the district, in curriculum, facilities and other areas are incredibly exciting. We are taking the strides necessary to better unlock the potential of all our students. At the end of the day, I realized that I have been part of this growth, and that I still am as passionate as ever about our schools, our students and their families, and our staff. There is still so much more to do, and I want to be a part of that.
If anyone reading this has any questions or wishes to engage in a dialogue about our schools, you know how to find me.
Thank you for your continued support. We can accomplish great things together. #WPPROUD. #DUBSET.