Comedy clip causes racial ‘stumble’ at Park Center High

Incident is a learning experience in a district where students of color are now the majority

Photos by Charles Hallman; Photo courtesy of Sharon Booth
Photos by Charles Hallman; Photo courtesy of Sharon Booth

Achieving racial equity in a suburban school district where over half of the student population is of color is an ongoing process, say school officials. Osseo Area Schools, Minnesota’s fifth-largest public school district, has 52 percent students of color, Superintendent Kate Maguire told us in an MSR interview. “I’ve been in the district for 30 years,” she said, and the district’s top administrator since 2010.

“We have primarily Caucasian staff members serving 52 percent students of color,” explained Maguire, adding that the district’s racial equity work includes “culturally relevant teaching,” leadership development, and community engagement “in ways that we’ve not done before. From my perspective as a White female leader, we are doing work in a way that we haven’t done before. We have to think differently because our experiences are different than many of the kids that we serve.”

The superintendent also pointed out that as a result of this work, the district’s Black graduation rates have increased 26 percent, and Black student suspensions have dropped almost by half since 2009. “We have to be conscious of our own racial background and the impact it has had on us…to know and learn differently than I ever had to learn before as a teacher and a leader, in order to serve our students differently.

“We are going to fall down, stumble and bump into each other occasionally,” continued Maguire. “And then we’ve got to decide now how we are going to treat each other when we stumble.”

Such a “stumble” occurred during a Park Center High School staff meeting in October, where several school teachers reported that they were disturbed after they watched a Comedy Central video shown by first-year principal John Groenke.

“It showed a Black male teacher out of control,” explained Special Education Teacher Sharon Booth. “He mispronounces Black kids names, and the White kids look like they are [his] victims. I thought it was very offensive.”

“It was inappropriate since there are [only] two Black male teachers [in the school] and five Black teachers overall. I was uncomfortable,” added Special Education Teacher Mykuhi Cade.

“I was very uncomfortable, and that’s what I told my colleagues at the table,” said Spanish Teacher Sara Schreiner.

Groenke, who said that he has been “a racially conscious leader” at other schools he has served, explained why he showed the video. “We have students of color — Black children — whose names have been mispronounced” by White teachers, he points out. He added that he had showed it before but [on those occasions] had also discussed it beforehand with several Black male teachers.

“I should’ve have sat down with some of my Black teachers here [to]…get their perspective,” admitted the principal.

Booth said that after she told Groenke in the meeting that she didn’t like the video, “He says, ‘Thank you for sharing that. You and I will have a further discussion.’ But we never did.”

“I met with that person and apologized,” said Groenke. “As I reflect…I can totally see that point of view. I wished that the two or three people would have felt safe and comfortable in coming to me to share their concerns. I believe I am open to listen…and open to other perspectives.”

“Our responsibility is when we mess up to repair relationships…and that is how I felt,” said Maguire.

Asked what he’d do if he could start over, Groenke responded, “I wouldn’t [have shown the video]. The students are my focal point every day I come to school. I am committed to ensuring that 100 percent of our students graduate.”

Racial equity also includes more diversity among teachers and staff, said Astein Osei, the district’s educational equity director. “There are a lot of people who can serve as secretaries, education support staff, and all of these other positions. We are going to figure out how to go find those teachers, but we also are going to utilize the resources in our community.

“The culture I want to set in the organization is that we are going to recognize it, address it, talk about it and change behavior. We are moving in that direction — that is the direction we want to move. We have plenty of learning to do.”

“I don’t pretend it is going to be easy,” said Maguire. “It starts with me.”

See the Comedy Central clip in question here.  (Warning: the video contains explicit language).

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

 

9 Comments on “Comedy clip causes racial ‘stumble’ at Park Center High”

  1. I am surprised the other parts of degradation of black students and black teachers was not mentioned in the article. Will there be a followup article? Black students and teachers need to know there voices count in the school districts. Teachers need to know if they speak up about an injustice they won’t be terminated or suspended. Thanks Ken booth

  2. I think that this is much to do about nothing. I have watched this sketch with my teacher friends and laughed. I do not work at this school, but, I am a teacher, and I am African-American, and I have always taken this as a flipping of how my white teachers mispronounce students’ of color names…all the time. Give me a break, I also recognize a name of one of the people quoted in this article. Maybe you guys should do some legwork on the people who complained. Not all of them have the best educational track record.

  3. I have watched this sketch with my teacher friends, and yes, I am African American. I have always taken this piece as a flip on how white teachers butcher students of color names. I don’t see anything worth complaining about it. In addition, I think that the Spokesman should do a better job of checking the people they interview, one of the people complaining, in this article, does not have the best educational track record.

  4. You shouldn’t allow disrepect in the school building. If we accept disrepect then why should anyone respect us as professionals. Have anyone seen a video showing white teachers being disrepected? No you haven’t. I don’t find this video funny at all. I am a black male and I found it discusting. Kb

  5. It’s unfortunate that a couple of individuals with an axe to grind take it upon themselves to smear Park Center. While not perfect, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that suggests the school is moving in a positive direction with regard to race.

  6. When a school which has a very huge minority population as Park Center has which is mostly African Americans and there is only 5 African American teachers there is something that is seriously wrong with that number, so just do the math and you will see that it just does not add up.

    There is no place in a school environment for such a video to be shown. Look at the video again, please and you will see how demeaning, degrading and despicable it really is and African American teachers/male teachers are being targeted.

    It is suggesting that African Americans have no place in the world of education or teaching for that matter as we cannot or are not able to conduct ourselves in positive ways and are not able to be positive influences on students and this is just not so.

  7. People let’s not miss the point of this article. The comedy central skit on the substitute teacher is comedy done by comedians. Most comedians crack jokes about themselves before cracking jokes on or about others. The premise is if you can laugh at yourself the world will laugh with you. Where was the joke about the principal before he showed the comedy video. Why couldn’t he find a video to show his supposed white teachers mispronunciation of black childrens name. I think progress is being made because the superintendent and the principal addressed the showing of the video as a mistake along with their efforts to do a better job in the future. The superintendent has been making strides to address the demographics of the district and I applaud her efforts. Kb

  8. MSR staff: every heard of the fable about the boy who cried wolf? If you keep crying foul about minor issues like this, no one will take you seriously when something legitimate actually happens.

  9. I have taught in the Osseo district for four years. I worked with John Groenke as my principal for three years at North View Junior High.

    As a white woman in my equity work and training, much of which was led by Mr. Groenke, I have learned to follow certain guidelines in dialogue around race. One is to expect and accept non-closure and embrace multiple perspectives. I have seen the video in question long before it was shown at Park Center, and my take-away was different from Ms. Booth’s and Ms. Schreiner’s, but I recognize that it is important to listen and reflect and move forward as best as possible when conflict arises.

    The element I would like to bring to light is what has been achieved at another campus led by Mr. Groenke. I have been heavily involved in the equity work at North View as a teacher leader. This work has been led by the Osseo Area Schools Equity Department and, until this year when leadership shifted, Mr. Groenke.

    On a technical level, we have embraced culturally relevant teaching that is centered around our students’ needs and supports them in positive, productive learning. We have challenged the materials students are given in the classroom so that they see themselves represented in a more positive light. We have adapted our pedagogy so that it is engaging for the racially and culturally diverse student body that we serve. We have grown as classroom facilitators, learning strategies to help our classrooms be welcoming, productive, and calm learning spaces. We have implemented Positive Behavior Intervention Systems to celebrate the positive behaviors and engagement we see from our students and keep our Black and Latino students–often disproportionately referred for negative behavior–in the classroom and supported when struggling to positively engage. We practice reflection around our classroom achievement and referral data, breaking it down by race so that we can reflect on and improve upon our instruction and leadership in the classroom, closing our own racial achievement gaps.

    The list is long and it is a continual work in progress. I see the results in my own classroom and across our school, evidenced in a closing achievement gap, fewer suspensions, eligibility to apply be a state-recognized Celebration School, and an increased consciousness of equitable practices on the part of teachers. These systems were all put into place under the leadership of Mr. Groenke, championed by his focus on racial equity.

    On a more adaptive level, North View became a place where discussion of recognizing conflicts and shortcomings, addressing them, talking about them, and changing became common, expected practice. This happened so that as a campus, we can achieve our mission of instilling courage, confidence, and competence in our learners so that they can achieve their dreams, contribute to our community, and be life-long learners. Under the leadership of Mr. Groenke, that conversation became real and dynamic, changing people like me as professionals, supporting us in moving from teachers to passionate champions of racial equity. I learned from Mr. Groenke and our Equity Department leadership that there is always learning to do, always improvement to be made, always a need for reflection.

    As I said, I believe in listening to the truths of others and adaptively moving forward. As the equity work at Park Center took a stumble, I look forward to seeing what happens there as they reflect, grow, and take next steps.

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