The gut-wrenching image of George Floyd as his life drained away under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sent shock waves around the world. But for many, the reaction of his six-year-old daughter Gianna–“Daddy changed the world” – was equally impactful because it addressed the future.
Hays CISD Superintendent Dr. Eric Wright was among those struck by the little girl’s words.
Wright released a statement to the public last week (See full letter here). In it, he promises the establishment of a Diversity Advisory Council to guide the district through this troubled time.
“Over the course of several days I was moved by a lot of the things that I heard,” Wright told the Hays Free Press. “I felt like it was time for us to come up with solutions, to make sure we’re not perpetuating something that’s not in the best interest of our kids.”
To be clear, the district has demonstrated such a willingness before. The school’s mascot is the Rebel, and although that has now been broadened, for decades it was specific to the cause of the South in the Civil War, complete with the prominent display of the Confederate flag and “Dixie” as the fight song.
That happened incrementally. In 2000, the flag emblem was removed from football and band uniforms but not the dress code, meaning students could still display it on clothing and otherwise. That changed in 2012, and in 2015, the district dropped the fight song following the mass shooting at the Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
A statement released by the district at that time read in part: The district believes removing the confederate flag and “Dixie” divorces all symbols of the confederacy from the campus and returns the school to its original starting-point – a rebel culture free from historically negative associations. Rebels are people who have the courage to fight for their beliefs and the independence and integrity to bring about social change. History is full of rebels including the patriots who rose up against a tyrannical British Crown to form our country, the Texans who fought to form a republic, and a host of other movements and individuals who have challenged the status quo and changed the world.
“I think it was a good decision,” said Wright, who was not affiliated with the district at the time.
Wright said he intends to use this summer to redefine his concept of the Diversity Advisory Council in order to better represent the district’s students. Currently, the Hays CISD is 64 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, 3 percent black, 1 percent Asian and 2 percent one or more races.
He believes an understanding of diversity should be instilled in students from an early age. “No kid really has a bias against each other when they start school,” he said, and for that reason, diversity should be addressed as early as Pre-K. “Most kids don’t notice any difference” until it is pointed out to them, at home or elsewhere. “We need to analyze everything that we do from the time they enter as a Pre-K kid. We need to make sure we are accounting for diversity, for different schools of thought.”
He said his focus for now is on learning. “Really what I want to do is listen to the people who are going to be on the Council,” which he thinks will “impact everything we do from curriculum to advisement to career pathways – there are so many things we do we may not be aware of because we’ve been doing them for so long. Our current system and practices, are the the best for all kids? I really think it will lead to solid conversations about a lot of different issues.”
Wright said he “wants to come up with solutions,” even for problems not on his radar. If there are things I already knew I would. Have tried to solve those.”
He believes other area school districts may take similar action. “One of the positive things that COVID-19 has spurred is that superintendents have had opportunities to collaborate” as they faced an unprecedented situation.
He hope his statement and Diversity Advisory Council will be something else districts can collaborate on one by one, like dominos falling.