Adam Weinstock, Assistant Director, PLCS 

Sixty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King stood 18 steps from the landing of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver his now famous and oft-quoted address. In eight successive, impassioned sentences, he shared his dreams for freedom and equity for all people. Today, we remember the dream King articulated, but we don’t recall the body of the speech in which he discusses the work that needs to take place for those dreams to be realized.  Such is what SWBOCES Superintendent Dr. Harold Coles reminded participants in his opening remarks for the 4th Annual Summer Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at SWBOCES Professional Learning & Curriculum Support; we need to focus on the often difficult but necessary ongoing work essential to the realization of King’s vision.

After spending more than 20 years in a variety of teaching and administrative roles in education in New York, I was drawn to the essential nature of the Center for Professional Learning & Curriculum Support’s work supporting educators in meaningful ways, and joined the Center in the role of Assistant Director just days before the Institute. Thus, it was significant that less than one week after my start, I had the privilege of participating, along with colleagues and educators representing a full range of roles in our PreK-12 systems, in a week of learning, connection, and inspiration at the annual DEI Institute. 

Over the course of five days, we heard from compelling speakers and participated in workshops that explored critical considerations and opportunities for advancing the ideals of  diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging central to King’s dream. For me, the Institute was an inspiring welcome to the SWBOCES Center for Professional Learning and Curriculum Support, where DEI is central to our work. With SWBOCES Board members Dr. Sheryl Brady, Nilesh Jain, and Dr. Joan Weber in attendance, the Center’s Director Dr. Mary Elizabeth Wilson framed our DEI efforts by sharing, “In launching this work, we reached out to experts, read everything we could find, attended webinars, created space to talk with each other, to listen to understand, and to share our lived experiences. Together we took a risk that I knew was humanly possible.”

Our day two keynote speaker, Dr. Anael Alston, NYSED Assistant Commissioner of Access, Equity & Community, posited that to ensure educational equity, we must approach our work with the premise that every child is “born brilliant and asset-rich.” He invited participants to close our eyes and imagine, “what would it feel like if everyone who raised you treated you like you were brilliant and asset-rich?” I attribute my own investment in education to an appreciation for the ways adults in my life affirmed my sense of self, coupled with my recognition that schools too often fall short of their promise to do the same for too many young people. I have visceral memories of the connectedness and value I felt in school spaces in my formative years, which reflect the sense of belonging we want for every child. Yet, when we feel challenged by our students, we must keep in mind what Green Bronx Machine founder Stephen Ritz reminded us, “Children who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.”

Across the DEI Institute, workshops led by Center faculty and by teachers and administrators from across New York emphasized the need and strategies for cultivating welcoming and affirming environments in a variety of ways. The topics were themselves diverse and included creating a culture of safety, developing caring communities through school-wide restorative circles, ways to foster belonging for the LGBTQ+ community, reducing weight stigma in schools, the need for employees to feel included and for students and colleagues alike to see people like themselves in leadership roles, because “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” In their respective keynotes, Port Chester Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez and Elizabeth Seton High School President Dr. Lisa Grillo spoke about the importance of women, people of color, and Black and Brown women in particular serving in educational leadership roles - and the need to “cultivate, support, and affirm'' such leadership. 

I came out of the DEI Institute grateful for the thoughtful planning of my new colleagues, inspired by the contributions of presenters and participants alike, and energized to partner with schools and districts to advance efforts to ensure all students are engaged in affirming and transformative learning experiences. Sixty years after Dr. King proclaimed, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,” public schools remain a key space to forge ahead with realizing unfulfilled promises.

On behalf of myself, our Senior Director Dr. Mary Elizabeth Wilson, and the faculty and staff of the Center and SWBOCES, we thank our speakers and attendees for sharing their expertise and themselves with us as together we continue on the path toward making Dr. King’s dream a reality.