Can you describe the recent graffiti and how you learned about it?
It was a Saturday in December when SATs were happening, and two things were discovered separately. A staff member saw the graffiti regarding the president-elect, and I was sent a photo of it. It said “F**kkk Trump,” and somebody wrote something next to that like, “Do you think that this will help?” There were a few responses after that. That same day I heard from a parent whose student sent them a photo of a swastika etched into a bathroom wall. I let the superintendent know, and the superintendent actually came over on Monday, and we walked around and physically looked at the graffiti, in part just to see them live. That’s the chronology of when I learned about it, but when they happened is harder for me to know. We made the decision to communicate broadly about it, and so between Sunday and Monday morning we drafted a communication to send out to parents.
Do you put a lot of stock into this? Or do you think this is just kids blowing off steam?
It depends on which one we’re talking about. In terms of a swastika, I don’t see that as ever being a thing you just blow off steam about. Could it be somebody who’s interested in garnering a response? Totally possible. The other, more anti-Trump communication, was interesting. It’s not the way I would like students to be talking, but I found what was underneath it, which is some struggle with the transition to President Trump, interesting. I thought the dialogue was a good dialogue: “I’m frustrated with this,” “Well do you think it’s helpful to talk about him in this way?” That’s interesting, and I wish that we could open up that dialogue a little bit more.
Are you going to try to do that?
It’s hard to do that in classrooms. It’s a really delicate proposition because as educators in a public school it is not our job to share our politics. It’s our job to not share. The day after the election we certainly talked with students, but I think to do that, not revealing our beliefs is important because we want all students to feel that, regardless of their beliefs, we care about all of our kids.
I know that we’re going to have what’s called a “hack-a-thon” about civic education, and we’re working with the PTO. That to me is one way to open up how to talk about our political processes. That’s loosely related. I think Dr. Shiffman was going to try to put together a panel of political science experts to just talk about what was a historic election. I don’t think that’s the same as opening this style of dialogue with students. That said, if people came forward, I think I’d be game for supporting it.
You’ve mentioned the vandalism stemmed from a political climate. Do you think it’s going to calm down?
I think as the transition to a new president is happening, and one that has spurred strong reactions, we’re going to see more dialogue. I would hope it wouldn’t be more graffiti. I think the reality of the town of Brookline is that it tends to be an overwhelmingly democratic town. So I actually think it’s hard for supporters of the president-elect because they are in a minority in the high school. I feel like this is a pretty accepting place all in all, and so much of this school is so beyond just tolerating different perspectives.
And, I mean, kids graffiti. Frankly, so do adults. But it’s defacing public property and that’s frustrating. There are times when it’s espousing hateful beliefs, and that’s not good either. So I would guess there’s going to be a lot in our political and cultural environment that is responding to the political change. I’m not exactly sure how it will play out.
Does that worry you?
I’m not worried. I have a real belief in our students and teachers. When things have happened that offend me and us as a school, or that seem like a transgression against our community, I have wanted to communicate about those to make it clear that we’re not sweeping anything under the rug and that these events don’t define us as a community. I’m not worried, even though I imagine part of being an administrator is being prepared for everything but expecting nothing. Who knows what will happen in a high school? So, yes, we are going to feel some of the changes, but how we get along as a school — I’m not worried about that.