- This story originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of COMO Magazine.
It’s important for our community to know that Columbia Public Schools is focused on achievement and believes in high expectations for its scholars.
In a period of time that has been politically charged and critical of public schools, I’d like to share with you an experience I had at Derby Ridge Elementary School. I shared this same story with CPS employees earlier this school year.
During my visit to the school, I met a scholar who was excited to show me the different flags they were learning about. He showed me the flag of the country he came from — Libya. He was proud to show me what he was learning about different countries.
As many of you may know, I’m originally from Trinidad and Tobago. I showed him the flag from Trinidad and Tobago. I showed him where it was on the globe. We had an immediate connection about being from different places and a shared similar experience of coming to a new place and feeling welcomed and encouraged.
We shared differences and similarities. In a world where people have different beliefs, cultures, and values, finding common ground can be challenging. This scholar and I were able to build a bridge by finding common ground in a shared experience. Finding common ground establishes a sense of unity and establishes a deeper understanding and respect for one another. Similarly, recognizing and understanding differences can lead to increased empathy, grace, respect, and appreciation for each other’s unique qualities.
Finding common ground through similarities and differences requires open-mindedness and a willingness to listen. People must be willing to put aside their preconceptions and biases to truly understand and appreciate the perspectives of others.
We are at a pinnacle point in time in our district. We are faced with the challenge to build on the successes and address opportunities for improvement. We must identify common ground with our critics and create unity through our shared goal of putting scholars first. We must lean into the difficult conversations to move the achievement needle.
I’m going to lean into the discomfort, have the difficult conversations, and accept the challenge of those who believe we can’t do it. I believe that if there is any district in the state that can raise the achievement bar, it’s CPS. This is a great district with outstanding, high-quality educators, staff, and administrators. We’re up to the challenge.
As superintendent, I also ask for the community’s support and encouragement to help us get there.