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InCommon November Update

Dear Members of the Commonwealth Community,

We write to update the community on InCommon's work this fall. Since we wrote in September, our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultants Nishant Mehta and Staci Williams Seeley have begun their work in earnest, and we (InCommon) worked to ensure that DEI matters were central in the Head of School selection process.

In September, we met with the three prospective Head of School finalists to learn about each candidate's experience with DEI initiatives at their current institutions and their perspectives on the DEI priorities at Commonwealth. We invited Kim Hoang '21, Tristan Edwards '18, and Katina Leodas '70 to join our conversations to inform the discussions. Their input on each candidate was invaluable, and we are grateful for their participation. We are pleased that Jennifer Borman '81 will serve as Commonwealth's next Head of School, as she demonstrated a deep understanding of the complexity of DEI and a commitment to fostering an inclusive school culture for students, teachers, and staff. Her ability to listen closely and empathetically, respond thoughtfully, and engage authentically in these tough conversations gives us confidence in her leadership of a sustainable path forward.

Nishant and Staci's first stage has been a listening tour to gain a deeper understanding of the community and the concerns relating to DEI. They began with targeted one-on-one and small group meetings with Head of School Bill Wharton, Chair of the Board of Trustees Therese Hendricks, members of the Board's diversity committee, the current students and young alums who wrote the petition, and other faculty and staff. In October and November, they broadened their scope to speak with larger groups: faculty and staff of the Equity and Anti-Racism Task Force (EAR), the admissions and financial aid team, the Student Life team, parents, academic department conveners, administrative directors, and a broader selection of current students.

From these conversations, a theme has emerged. Community members in all constituencies are motivated and invested in making Commonwealth School a more inclusive and equitable community. However, there is not a shared understanding of why DEI is important to Commonwealth to guide the work. Developing and articulating this shared understanding needs to be a first step.

InCommon has identified next steps for the constituents to advance DEI work at Commonwealth, and Nishant and Staci will help to facilitate:

  • Board of Trustees: In December, the Board will engage in training to establish a common language for DEI, define and communicate why DEI is important to Commonwealth School, and develop a framework for prioritizing it.
  • InCommon: Working in collaboration with Bill Wharton, we will explore the full-time Director of DEI position for 2021–2022, which will include developing the structure of the position and outcomes.
  • Faculty and Staff: Over the summer, the Equity and Anti-Racism Task Force (EAR), made up of almost twenty faculty and staff, conducted an internal audit of all aspects of school life (both academic and administrative). The thorough and thoughtful reflections of the EAR subcommittees will be shared with the full faculty and staff to broaden the conversation about DEI. In December, guided by these documents and a set of recommendations from EAR, InCommon faculty members (Mónica, Sophia, and Rebecca) will facilitate a faculty/staff discussion to determine short-term DEI goals for the remainder of this academic year, to better articulate how the faculty/staff will collaborate with the new Head of School and Director of DEI to advance DEI, and to identify longer-term goals.

To ensure the transfer of knowledge and feedback, Nishant and Staci will work with InCommon and the Commonwealth team supporting Jennifer's transition to support the continuity of this work when she begins her appointment in July.

We remain grateful to Ryan Phan '22, Kimberly Hoang '21, Alan Plotz '21, Iman Ali '18, Tarang Saluja '18, Tristan Edwards '18, Alexis Domonique Mitchell '16, Gueinah Carlie Blaise '16, and Mosammat Faria Afreen '16 who wrote the petition, brought Commonwealth's shortcomings into the spotlight, and continue to share their experiences and perspectives. Through the petition and community organization, they have effectively galvanized the community, and it is now time for the rest of the community to take ownership of the solutions.

InCommon looks forward to continued collaboration with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the Board to implement sustainable changes. We appreciate your continued support.

Please contact us at incommon@commschool.org with questions.

Sincerely,

John Dowd, Janique Parrott-Gaffney '04, Mónica Schilder, Sophia Meas, Rebecca Jackman 
InCommon