Part 1: Core Values are our compass to provide world-class education
Dear Walker Families:
As we look ahead to the start of a new school year amid these unprecedented times managing through a global pandemic and other societal issues, I want to share my vision for walking through such moments as these. I plan to do this in a three-part series, since there is a significant amount of information to share.
Part One focuses on who we are and why I believe a Walker education represents the very best opportunity to prepare today’s children for the world in which they will live and work tomorrow. Part Two will share our goals and recent efforts to strengthen Walker’s commitment to diversity and the infinite worth and dignity of each and every individual. Part Three will share additional plans going forward to build a more caring, equitable and inclusive community as we welcome students and families across a wide range of beliefs, backgrounds, and perspectives. We also will continue to share our plans as they relate to the health and safety of our Wolverine family and COVID-19.
As the head of school at Cobb County’s only non-religiously affiliated Early Learners-12th grade independent school, whose student body is among the most diverse in metro Atlanta, I am profoundly grateful for Walker’s Core Values and have a heightened sense of why they are important for our community and world.
Our CORE VALUES
speak to the culture we strive for at Walker and what we believe:
in the infinite worth and dignity of the individual;
that student learning is the chief priority of the school;
that the school plays an important role in teaching students to value themselves and others;
that the school should encourage students, faculty, and parents to develop a perspective that embraces diversity and enhances global awareness;
that the school should provide the foundation and framework for giving students the skills and the flexibility that are necessary to thrive in a changing world.
Education has always been one of the most important ways in which children develop the skills and confidence to live fulfilling lives as adults. Now, more than ever, as our nation becomes increasingly diverse (US Census data shows that there is no majority population for school-age children as of this year), every community needs an independent school that brings children together from many walks of life, as such an environment will best prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
At The Walker School, we strive to be a school that represents the very best educational opportunity for the children, where students grow in all areas and are stretched to develop skills and habits to succeed in academics, athletics, public speaking, working in teams and partnering with others.
It is humbling to serve at a school whose previous leadership had the foresight to develop core values that act as our compass guiding us to provide a world-class education, value the infinite worth and dignity of the individual and embrace diversity and global awareness, knowing that this combination will give every student the skills and flexibility to thrive in a changing world. And for parents, such an education represents one of the most important gifts we can bestow upon our children.
Thank you for investing in the very best educational option in our community; it is an honor to serve with you.
Part Two in this series will be shared Tuesday, August 4th.
All the best,Part 2: Self-Study process informs Walker’s diversity action
Dear Walker Community:
Thank you for reading PART ONE of this three-part series, which focused on who we are and why I believe a Walker education represents the very best opportunity to prepare today’s children for the world in which they will live and work tomorrow. Today, in PART TWO, I want to share our goals and recent efforts to strengthen Walker’s commitment to diversity and the infinite worth and dignity of each and every individual.
Walker became a non-religiously affiliated school in the early 1970s, having been established in connection with St. James Episcopal Church in 1957. Our 2006 Self-Study detailed significant goals with respect to diversity, including:
Walker will increase the number of students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The Walker School commits the entire school community to developing a perspective that embraces diversity and enhances global awareness regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, or religion.
The school will continue and intensify efforts to identify and hire faculty who will contribute to Walker’s leadership depth, diversity, and long-term strength.
The Walker School will have an outstanding faculty and staff that is diverse. The faculty will include scholars and other highly recognized educators, who have a variety of talents and perspectives that will challenge and also support the constituents of The Walker School.
The Board will continue to identify and recruit exemplary Board candidates who reflect the Walker community at large. The trustees will give special consideration to identifying areas of expertise of candidates in consideration of broadening the base of support of the school. The Board continues to place a priority on becoming a more diverse group. Areas in need of improvement include the addition of women, candidates of color, and non-current Walker parents.
Over the past 14 years, we have made strides toward these goals as our student body has grown from 15 percent to 39 percent students of color, and in 2020, our employees of color surpassed 10 percent for the first time and the school’s leadership team was 25 percent administrators of color.
We also have made gains through our board’s strategic leadership, both by diversifying board membership and increasing Walker’s commitment to affordability.
Our 2018 Self-Study identified, among other educational goals, a need to create a Community Life Action Plan that addresses student & community life, community outreach, and strengthens interpersonal relationships and fosters connections for students, faculty/staff, and parents through the following action steps:
Establish cross-divisional groups where students engage and interact with each other in a series of activities designed to be fun, productive, and community building.
Work with parent leaders to build awareness of the need for inclusivity and develop initiatives to enhance parent-to-parent connections across all social identifiers.
Institute a community-wide service event that brings families, parents, faculty, and staff together in meaningful service work.
Increase the diversity of the faculty and staff.
Increase the diversity of the Board of Trustees.
The self-study process highlights where a school is compared to where it aspires to be, and thus school improvement is at the heart of the process. As our Mission challenges us to be a “caring and diverse community,” committed to “the infinite worth and dignity of the individual,” these self-study goals and action steps are established as additional compass headings in support of our Mission, Core Values and Promise Statement. To read the entire 2018 Self-Study Report, click HERE
In Part Three, I will share additional steps we will take as a community to build a more caring, equitable and inclusive community as we welcome students and families across a wide range of beliefs, backgrounds, and perspectives. Ultimately, our goal is to build an even stronger Walker School as we provide a world-class educational program in a school community that is characterized by grace and empathy, bridges of connection, and civil discourse.
Part Three in this series will be shared this Friday, August 7th.
All the best,
Jack HallPart 3: Strengthening Our Community: The Path Forward
Dear Walker Community:
In PART TWO of this three-part series, I shared Walker’s historical and current goals and efforts to strengthen our school’s commitment to diversity and the infinite worth and dignity of each and every individual. Today, in Part Three, outlined below, I am sharing additional steps we are taking as a community as we seek to build a more equitable and inclusive school community characterized by grace and empathy, bridges of connection, and civil discourse. These steps include:
- We have established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee that will be charged with spearheading the development of purposeful and sustainable actions to foster a more inclusive learning environment at Walker. Members of the Committee include: Board Chair Glenn Shaw (Walker Parent ’19 & ’23), and Board Members Caron Cone (Walker Parent ’25) and Shirley Powell (Walker Parent ’19 & ’21), Human Resources Director and Interim Director of Community Life Dr. Derrick Williams (Walker Parent ’24 & ’27), Director of Communications Karen Park (Walker Parent ’29), Middle School Head Ira Dawson (Walker Parent ’35), Assistant Head for Academics & Upper School Head Michael Arjona ’97 (Walker Parent ’27), Middle School faculty member Jamie Rubens and Lower School faculty member Sonia Ahmed, along with current parents Daniel Crumby (Walker Parent ’26 & ’35) and Tiffaney Renfro (Walker Parent ’22 & ’25), and alumnus Ryan Wilson ’08.
I am waiting to hear back from one additional alumna to complete the committee. An important part of this committee’s work will include establishing division-level committees to allow for greater participation by community members, as I know there are many who would like to support this work. The committee will meet monthly to evaluate where we are, hear feedback from student listening sessions and surveys, and establish goals and action steps. The work of the committee will be communicated with the entire Walker community by the Head of School and the Interim Director of community Life.
- Listening sessions with parents have already begun and will continue, initiated by the Head of School and/or Interim Director of Community Life. The school’s Employee Engagement Committee has conducted listening sessions with faculty/staff, and school counselors, involved in the Student Support Committee, have set up listening sessions with students (some have been conducted as of this writing) to address concerns students have as they think about returning to school. Finally, a trained facilitator has been hired to conduct confidential conversations with students of color as we seek to learn more about the degree to which our community is equitable and inclusive from the students’ perspective. The first session is planned for August 11 and invitations are going out.
While these listening sessions are not mandatory, we hope all members in our community participate to help us gain a better understanding of each other and how to move forward as a school. The sessions are intended to give participants the opportunity to share feedback about the degree to which they feel safe, welcomed, included, and valued. Information gathered in these sessions will help inform the work of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
- We will solicit additional feedback from Walker students through a second iteration of the Cultural Climate Assessment. The first Cultural Climate Assessment, conducted in 2015, called for the establishment of the Director of Community Life position and helped inform the goals of our Self-Study. Mr. Rick Holifield’s work over the past three years, also informed by the findings of Dr. Derrick Gay’s assessment, was highly interpersonal but also included bringing such initiatives as Anti-Defamation League student training on the “Power of Words,” anti-bias training for faculty and staff, and professional development focused on attracting and retaining employees of color. Implementing a second assessment will help us understand where we stand now, what progress we have made, and where we have room for improvement. It also will give our current student body the opportunity to have an important voice in identifying opportunities for growth in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. We have contacted Dr. Gay to lead this initiative and are still working to establish a timeline for this action step.
- As we look ahead to the fall national election, another important step that must be taken will be codifying our school’s longstanding commitment to civil discourse. Our Promise Statement declares that Walker offers an “engaging, perspective-widening academic program” where questions and debate are encouraged, research is valued, and where innovation and critical thinking become part of each student’s intellectual DNA. This fall, we will establish written classroom norms that will encourage and empower each student to engage in civil discourse about important issues, many of which are complex and challenging. We want to protect each student’s right to speak bravely and listen generously; and “to investigate and understand beliefs they do not hold, to critique and construct their own points of view, and to participate respectfully and constructively in dialogue with others.” (Riverdale Country School [NYC], Statement on Civil Discourse) This work is necessary to ensure we maintain an academic environment where students are taught how to think, not what to think.
Thank you for reading through this entire letter. As we have stated from the beginning of the pandemic, we will proceed with grace, empathy and understanding, as we seek to provide both a world-class education and the foundation and framework for giving students the skills and the flexibility that are necessary to thrive in an ever-changing world. In my view, Walker represents the best possible educational environment, where people from many backgrounds and perspectives gather together to grow, ask questions, listen, reflect and learn, all of which ultimately allows our curious young learners to grow into critically thinking, individually expressive, confidently collaborative, and admirably honest young adults thoroughly prepared for the intellectual and relational challenges of college and life.
I look forward to seeing our students on campus beginning August 17th!
All the best,