Cambridge Public Schools’ Interim Chief Equity Officer Manuel J. Fernandez Launches the Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

Cambridge Public Schools’ Interim Chief Equity Officer Manuel J. Fernandez Launches the Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
Posted on 08/30/2021
Translations: Amharic | Arabic | Bengali | Haitian Creole | Spanish


Dear CPS Community,

After nine years as the founding Head of School at Cambridge Street Upper School, I am pleased to assume the role of Interim Chief Equity Officer for the new Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (OEIB). When former Superintendent Salim asked me to take on this critical role for the 2021-22 school year, I was honored but apprehensive. Like so many of you, I recognize that the district has a myriad of equity-related issues that were lifted up through the Building Equity Bridges (BEB) project. The BEB project has paved the way for CPS to explore more deeply how to achieve our vision of rigorous, joyful, and culturally responsive learning as well as the social, emotional, and academic supports each student needs to achieve their goals and post-secondary success as engaged community members.

The challenges are many and the expectations thrust on this office are high, and we should do everything that we can to meet them. The challenges will not be met by one person or one office. Dr. Salim and I agreed that the launch should be at a high-quality level with experienced CPS educators that would not require a learning curve period to sufficiently understand and respond to the needs of our racially, linguistically, and culturally diverse community of learners, caregivers, and educators. The pandemic and the months just before revealed for all to witness the indifference and inequities often endured by our racially marginalized community members. That reality made this decision even more essential if we expect to begin our journey of healing and transformation with fidelity and intention.

I am very pleased to share that Dr. Leslie Jiménez, former Special Assistant to the Superintendent, will serve as the Director of Equity. In addition, Interim Superintendent Greer has approved one-year "Educator on Assignment" appointments for the position of Curriculum & Training Specialist and Youth Advocate Specialist. Veteran Social Studies/History Educator Jenny Chung will serve as the Curriculum & Training Specialist, and veteran School Adjustment Counselor Kini Udovicki will serve as the Youth Advocacy Specialist. Their professional profiles are included in the OEIB Inaugural Plan. The OEIB also includes the Department of Family Engagement. We are pleased that Robin Harris, Principal on Assignment as Director of Family Engagement, and Debbie Bonilla as Family Engagement Specialist will return to these important roles. In addition, Mia Ferej joins OEIB as the Special Assistant for the OEIB and the Office of Strategy after a successful tenure in the Office of Student Services. I could not be more elated about this stellar team.

As our new district leader, Dr. Greer has articulated to school and district leadership that promoting and practicing anti-racism and equity in the cultures of our schools "is a through-line in all that we do." The work of the OEIB will require long-term, multi-generational, and multi-faceted initiatives co-developed and facilitated by all stakeholders at every level, including youth, caregivers, educators, the School Committee, district leadership, department leadership, and school leadership. There will not be any quick solutions, and preferred outcomes will require collaborative and sustained efforts by many. As a long time advocate for social justice in schools, I understand the tremendous responsibility I hold, and I trust that we all know that we share that responsibility together.

In his December 20, 2019 letter to the CPS community, Dr. Salim acknowledged and embraced the 12 BEB Commitments. In addition, he prioritized establishing a response system for racist incidents, the development of a anti-racist training program for all staff, and the active engagement of the voices of students and families of color toward lasting solutions to the barriers of equity in our schools. Dr. Greer enthusiastically supports all those priorities along with the other commitments that the School Committee endorsed in January 2020.

In the upcoming days, the OEIB will share our goals for this year that are rooted in the BEB 12 commitments. Our first district-wide initiative centers on the voices of our youth. We believe that the launch of OEIB should center the experiences of the primary recipients of teaching, learning, and engagement in CPS. On September 25th, we will launch the first Equity Youth Leadership Summit that the OEIB has co-developed with CRLS students. We have been meeting with students in focus groups and in planning groups since June. At the summit, this impressive group of students will lead and facilitate spaces for student attendees to share their views regarding their educational experiences in CPS and what equity should look like in grades JK-12. The outcomes of this important summit will inform our practices at both the school and district levels. We also plan to introduce similar developmentally appropriate projects for the other grade levels later in the fall. In addition, we will elicit input from other stakeholder groups whose views on the OEIB launch are critical.

I have spent my forty years as an educator as a staunch and vocal advocate for educational equity and anti-racism. It has not always endeared me to some in other school districts, but it has always created opportunities and a vision for all the students that I have been fortunate to serve. It is one of the reasons that I was excited to join the Cambridge Street Upper School in 2012. From the beginning, I found stakeholders that shared my excitement for what could be. That excitement has not waned, but it is often tempered by the reality of how difficult it is to center equity, inclusion, and belonging in a teaching and learning community.

As the official opening of the school approaches, I am deeply optimistic about the work and rewards ahead. CPS has all the elements necessary for systemic change that will benefit all of our stakeholders. We possess the essential resources, skilled and committed educators, engaged families, motivated students, community partners, and transparent and resolute district leadership. I believe that the opportunities before us are abundant and full of promise. We should seize every opportunity with purpose and discover ways to co-construct inclusive and enduring change. Together, we can actively embrace the road ahead and co-create teaching, learning, and engaging school cultures that affirm and provide for all of our students.

It won’t be easy but trust me, after a rewarding career in schools including public, independent, charter, urban, suburban, white majority or predominantly BIPOC, I am confident that if any school district can center and sustain equity for all of our children all of the time, the CPS community can!

In the words of the late Harvard educational researcher Ron Edmunds, "We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do this. Whether we do it or not must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we have not done it so far." - May 1, 1992

Thank you!

Peace,

Manuel J. Fernandez
Interim Chief Equity Officer
Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2021 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.