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Acting On Our Affirmation

Will Webb, Head of School

After posting “An Affirmation of Our Core Values” to the School’s Blog, members of our community have reached out to me and to others at the School to engage in dialogue. Some sought clarity, others advocated for action, some expressed gratitude, and a handful shared raw accounts of their experiences with racism and other forms of discrimination at Fountain Valley School both in the past and present. In the time since our initial post, I have spent a significant amount of time corresponding with these individuals to better understand their perspectives, listen to their advice, and to share news of ongoing work at the School to ensure that diversity, equity, inclusion, and globalization (DEIG) continue to be woven into the fabric of Fountain Valley School.

From this dialogue, I’ve gleaned three critical insights:
  1. the depth of the pain and passion felt particularly by the members of our community who are Black;
  2. the need for FVS to dig deeper and do more;
  3. the need to communicate frequently and transparently about the work that the School is and has been doing to create an inclusive, anti-racist environment.

Absent from the School’s first communication was an important affirmation that Black lives matter. I will state clearly and unequivocally here and now that Black lives matter to Fountain Valley School. Though our School’s vision of inclusivity seeks to treat all with respect, it is critical that we acknowledge and act to change the enduring disenfranchisement, marginalization, and violence that is suffered disproportionately by Black Americans as a result of systemic racism. This starts with affirming that Black lives matter both in words and deeds.

Some of those who reached out to the School have asked what actions Fountain Valley School will take to ensure that FVS is not only inclusive, but also anti-racist. I want to share just a few examples of work in support of DEIG that have been ongoing at FVS both before and subsequent to my arrival as Head of School in 2013. This list is neither exhaustive or complete, nor is it offered as a defense of our actions to date or lack thereof. We know that FVS is far from perfect and that we have much work to do along this critically important path. I hope you will recognize a pattern of progress in what is shared below, and more importantly, a demonstrated commitment to doing what is right.

Governance, Leadership, and Professional Development
  • We have intentionally steered the composition of our Board of Trustees to achieve gender equality, significantly increased racial and ethnic diversity, and representation of alumni from five of the last six decades.
  • The FVS Senior Leadership Team of the past five years includes a female COFO and a Hispanic Assistant Head of School.
  • Members of our administration team are participating in ongoing NAIS programs such as the Diversity Leadership Institute and a group for heads of school working to develop key questions that school leaders need to be asking about DEIG.
  • We have conducted ongoing professional development for faculty throughout each of the last 5 years focused on race, culture, and identifying biases.

Community
  • The Office of Admission has built partnerships with nine organizations and schools throughout the country that serve predominantly BIPOC populations and attends recruitment events in these locations each year.
  • The Scott Family Scholarship for Native American students provides financial support specifically for students of indigenous families from Montana and Wyoming.
  • FVS was among the first schools in the nation to welcome transgender boarding students.
  • Nearly $3 million each year, supported in part by contributions to the Annual Fund, is allocated to financial aid that helps break down systemic, socio-economic barriers to attending FVS.
  • Representatives from FVS regularly attend the Teacher of Color Recruitment Fair in Atlanta and the Colorado Diversity Network Job Fair in Denver, and FVS has hired five people of color in the last six years.

Academic & Extracurricular Programs
  • FVS students and faculty have attended the NAIS People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference for the last seven years, as well as the Cherry Creek Diversity Conference.
  • Our Student Cultural Organization leads annual recognitions and celebrations throughout the year such as National Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Chinese Lunar New Year to build understanding and respect for experiences and perspectives that may be different than one’s own.
  • Unity Day and All-School meetings continue to provide a venue for members of our community to share their experiences and to welcome speakers such as: Dr. Eddie Moore - Founder and Program Director of the White Privilege Conference; At the Table with Dr. King - an educational live performance focused on the life of MLK and the American Civil Rights movement; and Dr. Sean Latham ’90 who spoke about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
  • Commencement speakers over the past four years have included an African American alumna, a mixed-race parent couple, and a Native American alumna.
  • The Academic Programs Team continues to work to expand the curriculum and incorporate more diverse representation. As an example, the FVS Chapter One Freshmen Experience begins with self-assessment and culminates with a look outward to develop empathy in order to recognize and celebrate racial, gender, and cultural differences as students chart a course for their time at FVS.

Again, this list is neither exhaustive or complete, nor is it offered as a defense of our actions to date or lack thereof. I want to reinforce that as a school we are very much aware that there is more that can and needs to be done, and that we are committed to doing this work. However, as some have indicated in their messages to me, sentiment is meaningless without action. Looking ahead, I want to share with you two new initiatives that will help inform and guide us as we move forward.

First—Assistant Head of School Rafael Muciño will lead a task force to conduct a self-survey of our academic and residential programs, and those of peer schools, in order to identify opportunities to further integrate and enhance themes of diversity, equity, inclusion, and globalization in our programming.

Second—today, we will begin a survey of our entire community to identify the extent to which racism and other forms of discrimination exist at Fountain Valley School both in the past and presently. This information will be used to help inform and guide the work we will do moving forward. A link to share this information through a confidential survey can be found below. A few brave alumni and students have contacted me directly to share accounts of their experiences, but we know there are more. Many schools throughout the country are learning this information through second and third hand accounts via disparate platforms. We wish to lead by listening so that we may confront this head on and work to support the members of our community who have suffered these injustices with the hope of eradicating racism and discrimination from the Fountain Valley School community.
William Webb
Head of School
Fountain Valley School
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