A Letter to Parents – September 18, 2020

Mark Turner

Dear Parents and Guardians,

As I sit here early on Friday morning, I find myself more wistful than usual.

In England in the late 1600s, after the Civil War (royalists – nil, parliamentarians – one), there developed a sect of puritanism which preached that you should never be seen to express joy or celebrate beauty. The idea was that if you did so, it would be returned with equal amounts of sadness and pain. After a euphoric start to Term One and the excitement, energy and exuberance of returning students, this week has been a bit of a reality check. Perhaps I enjoyed myself too much last week!

I am feeling the need to pause and reflect. In this context, and with tea in hand, I make a number of points in order of lesser significance first.

Traffic

As the campus returned to full operation after the quiet of lockdown, we have seen a rise in concerns expressed by our neighbours about speeding, double-parking and miscellaneous traffic infractions.

Although I very much enjoy my duties as crossing guard at the Junior School, I am not planning to upskill to traffic cop any time soon! Suffice to say, please respect our neighbours as you travel to and from both campuses.

Mask Wearing

This is a moment for me to offer kudos to our students across our three schools, whose adherence to the Mask Policy has been exemplary. In reply to the statement from a concerned passerby, “I have photographic evidence to show that your students are not wearing masks,” I was able to reply “you have photographic evidence that show our students enjoying safe, outdoor activity within their cohort group.” Still we must not be complacent. I encourage everyone to remain diligent in following rules and hygiene practices.

Diversity

Over the course of this week, a few parents have booked appointments with me to talk through their views on and experiences of racist incidents in the past, to raise questions around diversity and to ask about SMUS’s path to further progress in the future. While I have felt the deep sentiments and emotions that have been expressed to me, I remain an optimist. Looking back over the 100 plus years of SMUS’s history, there have been egregious incidents certainly but also demonstrable progress. Huge strides have been taken in the area of equal opportunities with coeducation at SMUS in 1978, the recognition of LGBTQ2+ Rights, advocacy for Indigenous Rights and in the development of a culture based on our values of respect. courage, honesty and service. There is still a great distance to travel, and the need for some speed.

Next week, I will be convening a meeting of some of our wisest minds, with a view to constructing a statement of intention that we will aim to publish on Friday, September 25. In fact, we are already making steps toward the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, with the aim of ensuring our Diversity and Inclusion Statement is embedded in every aspect of school life.

Our commitment as a school, which is shared with every student at the beginning of each academic year reads:

St. Michaels University School is a community that embraces and celebrates diversity. Each member of our school community has the right to feel safe and comfortable with who they are, inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, beliefs, culture or ethnic background, abilities and appearance.

These are values our school believes deeply in, and students’ actions and attitudes should reflect this.

For those of you who have reached out to speak with me or members of our Senior Leadership Team, thank you for your thoughts and observations. Some have wished to remain anonymous and while I respect these decisions, I feel it does undermine trust and flies in the face of the principles of good discourse.

My door is always open; I am a good listener and I welcome seeing things from the perspective of others. I have been preaching for more than three decades that all students should be prepared to consider, articulate and own their views, with every hope of their bringing them forward constructively.

With every best wish as ever,

Mark Turner
Head of School

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