In Attendance: Vicki Wyld, Rabbi Matt Cutler, Genghis Khan, Lauren Gemmill, Sam Tibbits, Carey Merrill, Bill Anders, Eva Jones, Jean Sosnow, Kristen Sweeter, Neysha Byrd, Tammy Weingarten, Priti Tepanos, Matthew Shultz, Dara Weingarten, Sameera Kadori, Anjali Madassu, Kim Mousaw, Cosimo Tangorra, Bill Wales, Karen Behrman, Lisa Thomas

  • Introductions
    • Welcome: Vicki Wyld

 

  • Work of the ECAC thus far
    • History of the ECAC: Beginning Spring of 2016
    • Three major accomplishments thus far
      • Diversity Goals
      • Hiring of Dr. Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard/EquiVisible
      • Transition into subcommittees (from a “Think Tank” to a standing advisory committee with subcommittees)
        • Mental Health
        • Diversity
        • Events

 

  • EquiVisible update
    • Dr. V has attended ECAC meetings and worked with Niskayuna School Board and administrative team
    • Update on Students of Color video project
      • Had a planning meeting on October 2
      • Still don’t have planning for video locked down… draft of invitation letter is complete, dates for parent meetings/taping should be hammered out at a planning meeting tomorrow (October 31)
      • Letter will be mailed soon, hopefully by the end of the week or beginning of next week
      • Goal is to tape video by mid-December
      • Video will feature students of color sharing their experiences as Niskayuna students
      • Video will definitely be viewed by School Board and Leadership Team, and possibly the Diversity Subcommittee; additional viewership will be determined after the video’s creation
      • There was discussion of concerns related to the video’s creation and viewership

 

  • Recent events in NCSD
    • Discussion of football players’/cheerleaders’ choice to “take a knee” during the National Anthem
    • Three official statements have been released; two by Dr. Tangorra and one by School Board.  Interested in moving forward at this point.
    • Some students came to Principal Rickert’s attention that students were planning to kneel during the anthem.
    • Students need to hear the following:
      • They should be able to articulate why they wanted to engage in the activity
      • They should be able to articulate whether their act of protest will serve a purpose or if there is a more appropriate way to address their concerns
      • They should understand that their will be ramifications to their actions
    • Based on student answers, administrative support was given and students exercised their right to protest
    • Certain segments of the community reacted to the protest on social media, etc.
    • A statement was released in support of the students’ right to protest
    • Subsequently, a decision was made not to play the National Anthem at the following pep rally in the interest of students’ unity
    • Somebody called WRGB on the Friday before the Schenectady game regarding the decision not to play the National Anthem at the pep rally
    • There was a news story at noon regarding the pep rally
    • Dr. Tangorra expressed continued discomfort at the media’s treatment of the situation
    • He emphasized the continuing practice of making decisions in the best interests of the students
    • Eva Jones shared details about how the event shaped the high school faculty meeting immediately after the pep rally.
      • High School Leadership Team made the decision to devote time at the faculty meeting to discuss student rights and diversity at the high school.
      • Dr. V was invited to the meeting to discuss where we are in Niskayuna relative to events nationally.  She reviewed student rights and case law related to student rights, and emphasized that to respond, people need information.
      • She acknowledged that work around race and racism is difficult and emotional, and that it is a first step.  She will continue to work with High School Leadership Team to provide focused professional development in this area.
    • Eva Jones reports that students, while in many cases surprised or stunned by the reaction to their protests, seem to be doing okay and feel supported by the school community, by other students, and staff.  Neysha Byrd reports that her daughter and another student were invited to a panel at Union College on racism and making change.  She reports that they were devastated by the hate speech and outcry from some members of the community; not the disagreement, but the inappropriate responses.  She reports that while students did receive threats, in many cases they were able to engage in very healthy debates and disagreements.
    • Karen Behrman reports that Union College faculty and staff have expressed positive support for the Union panel’s student participation.
    • Carey Merrill inquired about future student protest and what additional steps students will take, and with what support.
    • Dr. Tangorra expressed interest in continued engagement through volunteerism, civic engagement, and adult support for advancing student causes in a way that continues to build awareness.
    • Eva Jones suggested students reach out to the Activities Committee to consider the idea of a panel or community discussion.
    • Neysha Byrd reiterated that students were very ‘adult’ in their handling of the situation… for example, the football players made the decision to lock arms and continue in protest in that way, and not everyone was used to the backlash, but that players and cheerleaders handled the situations with dignity and grace.  Students are still staying the course but are very conscious of not making too many waves.
    • Students could possibly learn about ways to speak  back to hate… ADL training, Study Circles
    • Bill Anders spoke to the growth of the Study Circles program… engaging with Everyday Democracy and continued expansion as part of BOCES offerings

 

  • Sub-committee reports
    • Goals and timelines
    • Father Stephanos reports on Events
      • Piggybacking on various events that are already taking place during the school academic year
      • Cultural Night at Craig School on December 6… may set up a booth or table there to share Diversity Goals and be a presence at that event
      • Niska-Day- having a booth there and having the committee present as an opportunity to talk about mission and goals
      • Link with activities to coincide with Peace Week (February/March), including an interfaith service in Niskayuna and include all places of worship either Saturday or Sunday to either preach or teach about peace, informing the educators of all the school as an opt-in or opt-out to enhance teaching peace
      • There is a pre-Thanksgiving event at the Sikh temple 6 p.m.
    • Eva Jones reports on Wellness
      • Over 30 people expressed interest, roughly 20 people came to the first meeting… brainstorm and share on concerns about mental health and wellness
      • Students spoke about the creation of a “Calm Room” at the high school
      • Worked to prioritize the interests of the group to three:
        • Social-emotional curriculum with regard to coping skills
        • Positive focus on pro-social behaviors, not just anxiety
        • PD focus for staff on various issues related to mental health and wellness
      • Next meeting on November 8 which will include health teachers, interested in a framework to consider ideas and an assessment of what curriculum already exists
      • Eva shared information regarding the PowerSchool app that students are using to get their grades instantly
      • Eva shared that most of the participants in the group have a professional mental health background
      • Substance abuse seems to be a secondary concern of this group
    • Genghis Khan reports on Diversity
      • Diversity committee last met on October 2 in accordance with a meeting with Dr. V
      • Interested in working with Dr. Tangorra and the School Board for the funding and recruitment of a Diversity Officer
      • Continuing to support the EquiVisible project, working to interpret and use the data to best effect
      • Continuing to support and promote professional development for faculty and staff along the lines of diversity
      • Points for discussion with larger group
        • We have received many expressions of interest in the committee, and wanted to consider the idea of an appropriate size on the committee
        • Interested in discussing membership of committees as being directly connected to the Niskayuna community: students, parents, staff, people who serve the Niskayuna committee directly
    • Activity:  Mission Statement through the lens of the sub-committees
      • Discussion about well-being in Elementary buildings and high school
      • Discussion about wording of diversity goals: self-esteem, personal success
      • Discussion of “equitable access” meaning that the Mental Health committee will need to attend to the needs of subcommittees
    • Closing: Vicki- thanks for your time and reminder of next meetings