June 22, 2020
Dear McDonogh Community,
Our nation and our school are at a crossroads. For McDonogh’s administration and Board of Trustees, the path forward is clear.
We denounce racism and social injustice and are deeply committed to taking action and beginning to enact significant institutional change, starting right now.
Shamefully and regrettably, slavery is part of our school’s history. John McDonogh, whose estate led to the creation of McDonogh School in 1873, built his wealth using the labor of enslaved people.
The McDonogh of today is committed to being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community, and in honoring this commitment, we have a responsibility to reckon with and be accountable for our institution’s complicity in reinforcing and perpetuating the racism that tragically and systemically still exists in our society and in our school community. We must urgently and thoroughly examine and collaboratively strengthen our current policies, practices, programs, traditions, and cultural representations to ensure equity at McDonogh.
We will seek out extraordinarily difficult yet absolutely essential conversations with our faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and students of all ages, with a special focus on our Black community members, to listen to their concerns and learn about their experiences at McDonogh to ensure racism is completely dismantled at our school.
We will address head-on the historic and present-day inequalities that have accumulated. And we will use our ties to slavery to inform our work and our students’ education, becoming a center of both study and action.
It is time to set a new precedent. We know we can do better; we must do better, and we will do better.
We want to take this opportunity to share information about six key initiatives intended to begin transforming McDonogh and to help ensure that we continue to develop young people of character to be a force for good in the world.
Enhancements to Schoolwide Curriculum
As we carry out our LifeReady mission, more than ever, we assure you that the leadership, faculty, and staff of McDonogh School are steadfastly dedicated to educating our students about slavery and racism, including a deeper and more transparent assessment of John McDonogh’s life.
A team of teachers has begun to craft a strategic plan for the design and implementation of an anti-racist/anti-bias framework. They will develop a list of core competencies to serve as a compass for ongoing planning. The anti-bias framework will also provide the committee with a lens through which to assess our current curriculum and programming.
We plan to use this framework as we develop a prekindergarten through twelfth grade curriculum examining the history of John McDonogh. The curriculum will address not only slavery as the fundamental contradiction in American history but also the impact of institutionalized racism today. It will also help students develop cultural competencies and a deep understanding of what it means to be an anti-racist.
Additionally, the anti-bias framework will be a vital component of Greatest Good McDonogh, the recently-announced signature program that will inspire students of all ages to use their hearts and minds to be catalysts for positive change in our city, region, and the world.
Memorial to Remember the Enslaved People of John McDonogh
An integral part of this educational initiative is moving forward with the creation of a memorial to always remember the enslaved people of John McDonogh.
This project has been in the planning stages for many years, and earlier this year the school commissioned Oletha DeVane, former Head of the Upper School Visual Arts Department, to design the memorial.
Oletha, who retired this year after an incredible 27-year career at McDonogh, is an accomplished multidisciplinary artist who has dedicated her personal and professional work to utilizing art as a tool for social justice and activism.
The memorial will be a site for discussion, education, and contemplation, as well as new schoolwide traditions. This fall, we will share the design and a detailed timeline.
McDonogh History Museum
Another important initiative that will support the teaching of our school’s history as it intersects with American history is a McDonogh History Museum. Referred to as the “History House' in previous communications, the museum will feature curated exhibits that unflinchingly examine John McDonogh’s complex legacy and also bring to life the personal stories of his enslaved people.
The Museum is imagined as a center of learning not just for McDonogh students and the McDonogh community, but as a resource for the Baltimore region as well. It will also house the school’s substantial archives. We are continuing to fundraise for the museum, which will be an extension of the Kiplinger Library.
Together, the memorial, the museum, and our new schoolwide curriculum will help students gain a deeper and more thorough understanding of slavery and systemic racism so they can become lifelong agents of change.
Training and Professional Development
We recognize that professional development for trustees, administrators, faculty, and staff is essential to achieving our institution-wide goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Trustees and members of the administrative team participated in a DEI weekend retreat earlier this year, and our administrative team engaged in two constructive days of additional DEI training last week.
Our commitment to equity, inclusion, and social justice learning, led by Head of School Dave Farace, Associate Head of School Kate Mueller, and Director of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Lana Bates, will continue and remain an ongoing, top priority for school leadership as well as faculty and staff.
Trustees and Governance
We will also immediately create an Equity and Justice Committee of the Board of Trustees, which will be comprised of a combination of trustees, members of the administrative team, and members of our community with relevant experience and subject matter expertise.
While DEI is already an essential component of our mission, vision, and strategic plan, a stand-alone committee will elevate our focus on this work, add the bandwidth necessary to take on a greater volume of DEI-related projects, and ensure that matters of race, access, and bias have a greater share of voice in Executive Committee sessions and full Board meetings alike.
Strategic Plan of Action for Sustainable Change
Unquestionably, the steps we are taking and will be taking are overdue, but we are committed to the road forward, knowing that path will not end until equity and inclusion are fully realized by every member of the McDonogh Family.
Most importantly, we will be proactively developing a comprehensive, multi-year strategic plan of action and process for sustainable change. This plan, which will include metrics to measure effectiveness, will guide us and keep us accountable for the long haul. We know that a statement like this one is not a strategy and that actions speak far louder than words.
As stated above, inviting and listening to and gaining the perspectives of our students, parents, and alumni, especially the Black members of our community, will be crucial in the process of developing the plan.
Please stay tuned for opportunities to participate in candid dialogue about what comes next and why, as well as hands-on opportunities to help move the school meaningfully forward. We are grateful for the time, energy, effort, and expertise of those in our community who have reached out and offered thoughts and suggestions for the school’s growth and development, and we look forward to continuing these conversations. Working together will make McDonogh a more just place to be with each other in community.
In closing, we want to reiterate that McDonogh School stands firmly in opposition to racism and racial injustice, and we affirm our commitment to justice moving forward. This work is an ongoing practice and is central to both LifeReady and the mission of our school.
We are intensely committed to providing our students, now and in the future, with the knowledge and skills necessary to become strong leaders who put justice and equality front and center in their families, communities, and work. The true measure of our commitment will be evident in their preparedness for a world that is changing fast, and their ability to shape it for the better.
Thank you so much for reading this letter, and thank you in advance for doing everything you can to help us move forward with fidelity. We commit to being transparent with you and communicating often about our progress on these and all future initiatives.