Guest Editorial |

Guest Editorial

Ember Conley, Ed.D.Superintendent, Park City School District

On October 2 at the Public Comment section of the Park City School District Governing Board Meeting, an allegation was made from six parents that during one of the eight lectures by the Author in Residence, Sherman Alexie asked our Caucasian students to stand up and say, "I am a white, over-privileged s..thead." I personally had visited two of his lectures and found them thought provoking; however, he had presented eight total lectures and I could not deny or admit to this allegation.

As a superintendent, I began investigating immediately. I began with my high school daughter, who attended a session during her regularly scheduled English class. When prompted if there was profanity, she confirmed that he did use profanity.

The next morning, I was informed that Sherman Alexie asked our Caucasian students, in this session, to stand up and state the words above. I was also provided some context that is important. It began with a story from Sherman when he was an 8-year-old boy. Every six months, he had traveled off the reservation with his dad and siblings to a larger town in Oregon. The highlight of the excursion was to shop for groceries; and they would buy Hero Sandwich to share. As the family was walking across the street, Sherman was holding his dad’s hand, a car drove up next to them, rolled down the window, and a white male spit on his father for the pure reason of his color of skin. He further expounded that he had to go against the norm of his culture to attend an off reservation school and was ridiculed by his culture that he wanted to become part of the white culture; yet never accepted in the off reservation "white" school. His motivation for his words was to encourage students to understand the privileges of education and learning acceptance for all races. At this point, he made the white students stand up and say what the parents told us above during the Public Comment Section of the Board Meeting.

I am not condoning his actions and am deeply apologetic to our Park City High Students that may have been negatively affected by these actions. Our children are to be cherished; and we have the responsibility to promote learning in a safe environment. Since this allegation, I have had the opportunity to read student reflections of this particular session and their words tell the story of how he challenged their thinking. Again, we can disagree with his method; and I will continue to put measures in place for our public speakers. Additionally, we must foster student learning not only in subject matter, but also life lessons of tolerance, acceptance, and forgiveness.

I am working closely with the high school administration and Park City Education Foundation in reviewing the next author in residence. Given my love for reading, my passion to educate our children, and the strong belief that this partnership with Park City Education Foundation is a benefit to our students, I will be personally involved in the summer reading selection. If another controversial book is chosen, there are several steps in place to communicate more effectively to parents.

I would like to add that I would greatly appreciate being informed of future issues with a phone call or email to allow me the opportunity to address these issues without being informed at a governing board meeting, in which I cannot defend, deny, or admit any information in that forum. I am dedicated to ensuring that all children have the best educational experience; and I was not allowed to do my job effectively. In reality, Mr. Alexie received exactly what he may have desired publicity for his writings. I respectfully ask that anyone who has a concern with a situation in our schools to start by communicating to the teacher, principal, and/ or me. Together, we can be the best school district in the nation, but it takes open communication, honesty, and transparency.

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