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Black History Heroes – February 10, 2016

At a recent Beechwood event, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Jason and Michaun Auzenne whose daughter Jala is in our 6th grade class. During our conversation, Jala’s dad asked me what plans Beechwood had to celebrate Black History Month. His question served as a reminder to me that this is an important time, not just for the African American members of our school community but for the Beechwood community as a whole.

Therefore, throughout the remainder of the month, parents, teachers and students will share their “Black History Heroes.” We start this week with a contribution from Nicoshi Marzette, mother of Bryce in our 5th grade:

There are way too many heroes for me to name just one. So many that have made a difference for not only African Americans but all Americans!

We can go back to Harriet Tubman and her mission to free the slaves. Sojourner Truth and Langston Hughes, whose powerful words through poetry and speeches have made and continue to make huge strides throughout the communities.

Even if we look at more modern day, a lot of the microphones used today were developed/designed by James West. Those hot summer days that the kids enjoy running around with their super soakers, those were invented by Lonnie Johnson. For the cellphone crazed teens, Jesse Eugene Russell for his part in introducing the world to cellular technology (he got his Masters at Stanford).

There are tons of heroes and way makers both known and unknown that have made a difference. Personally, my heroes have been right in my community of East Palo Alto/Menlo Park. I will always remember Ms. Sandra Sterling who was my teacher in 3rd/4th grade at Willow Oaks. She was also my Sunday School teacher at Macedonia Church in Menlo Park. She is the reason that I was so into poetry and helped me to be comfortable with performing. She taught me the importance of being active in the community and giving back as well as standing up for what’s right! Especially in a world when women are often not taken as seriously as men.

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” — Malcolm X

Thank you Nicoshi for sharing these thoughts with us. Next week we will share another Beechwood parentrsquo;s Black History heroes

-Mr. Laurance

Affordable Housing: A Call to Action – January 6, 2016

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Holiday. Mine was great! It started with Beechwood’s amazing, uplifting Holiday Show and continued on through Christmas and New Years. It was rejuvenating to take an extended break, to be with family and friends to celebrate all of life’s blessings.

Now, however, it is time to roll up our sleeves and get back to our important work. One of the most pressing issues affecting the Beechwood Community is that of affordable housing. One of my goals for 2016, is to do whatever I can to help bring awareness to this growing problem. I urge you to get involved as well.

Most of you are well aware of what is happening with regard to rising home prices and rents. As the prices go higher and higher it is becoming very hard for many Beechwood families to stay in the area. We have lost a number of families already because they can no longer afford to live here. The grim reality is that we can be sure that more families will leave, unless the issue is addressed and solutions are found.

In addition to the issues faced by our families, the lack of affordable housing is affecting our staff as well. Teachers who are renting are having their rents raised to a point where they have to consider leaving the area as well. Our outstanding staff is an essential part of what makes Beechwood great. The thought of losing talented teachers due to a lack of affordable housing is of great concern to me as well.

So what can we do?

For my part, I have started by drafting an open letter to local government leaders, making them aware of what is happening and asking them to engage in dialogue with our community members about affordable housing for teachers. This letter will be co-signed by a group of local Principals who are equally concerned about losing teachers.

I also will be attending the next Menlo Park City council meeting, which will be held at the Senior Center on January 12th at 6pm. If you are interested in raising awareness about housing prices and urging our leaders to address the issue, I hope you will attend as well. In the past, a show of strength from Beechwood families has made a difference with regard to local issues.

I started this message by mentioning “life’s blessings.” For me, one of the greatest blessings of my life has been working in this richly diverse community. Beechwood parents come from all walks of life. You are nannies, gardeners, high tech workers, nurses, office managers and teachers. Regardless of how you make your living, you deserve to have a place to live that is affordable and reasonably close to where you work and where your children go to school. Let’s do whatever we can to make our voices heard in an effort to preserve our diverse community.

-Mr. Laurance

Meet the Police – May 6, 2015

This year we have been fortunate enough have held parent evenings with both Menlo Park Police and East Palo Alto Police. We met first with MP PD. Afterward, a parent suggested that we invite EPA PD to come as well. Today I want to share with you a few things that happened leading up to, during and after this most recent meeting. Hopefully these thoughts will help all of us to reflect on our own prejudices, on how we can progress as a society and on what makes Beechwood an extraordinary community.

The meeting with EPA Police was held on a Tuesday night. After a long day of work, the thought of being here until 8:30pm had me feeling a little grouchy. In addition to my grumpiness, I was feeling anxious. Relations between people of color and the police have not been good of late and I was aware that EPA Police has not had the best reputation with our families. Would anger levels make it difficult to have a constructive meeting? Would the parents be on the verbal attack and the Officer on the defensive?

At 6pm, the Officer arrived and I immediately judged him. He was white and seemed distracted and unfriendly. I thought, ”This is not going to go well.” Slowly parents trickled into the library for the meeting while Officer Warford was busy on his phone. I wondered what they were thinking about him. My palms were sweaty and I was nervous.

What I soon discovered was that my preconceived notions about the Officer were not justified. Officer Clay Warford of the East Palo Alto Police Department is a good guy. The parents quickly warmed up to him. He listened to their concerns and did not talk over them. He assured them that he would always treat them with respect but was honest about the fact that there are still policemen in EPA who are not as respectful as they should be. He offered hope for the future (the new chief has promised to make things better) but was realistic about the limitations the Police Department faces due to budget constraints. He frequently broke the tension with his authentic sense of humor. He even stayed 30 minutes after the meeting to talk with a parent who needed to have some concerns addressed in private.

My worries about the families were unjustified as well. Beechwood parents who grew up in EPA shared emotional stories of how they have been mistreated by East Palo Alto Police officers. The stories were related honestly but without ill will towards this Officer. To their credit, parents did a lot more than voice their concerns. They went further by offering suggestions to help improve the relationship between EPA Police and the community at large. The suggestions were well thought out and delivered with respect. Parents also put forth the idea that all of us, not just the police, bear a responsibility to help make East Palo Alto a safe place to live.

So there you have it. A meeting that I was not looking forward to turned out to be one of the best experiences I have had in my 21 years at the school. The discussion that we had gave me hope that we do not have to remain stuck where we are now with regard to Police/Community relations. Thank you Officer Warford for your open-mindedness and respectful attitude. Thank you Beechwood parents for being willing to put aside the past and take a constructive and hopeful approach to the future.

-Mr. Laurance