Testimony of Danika Nieves to the BOE, August 20, 2020

Good evening.  My name is Danika Nieves and I am an English teacher at Kensington CAPA High School.  I am urging the board to vote NO on action item 1 –  the $700,000 contract with KJR Consulting for professional development and anti-racism training.

The ongoing commitment of racial justice work requires an approach of both thoughtfulness and intentionality, neither of which are present in the district’s proposed contract with KJR Consulting.  This work must center the voices of students, staff members, and families.  To do so, the district must recognize the value of the many professional educators who are already engaged in local racial justice initiatives and become willing to compensate its own educators and community members for this work.

Instead, the district is ironically overlooking the knowledge, qualifications, and talent of its own educators and community in favor of a consulting firm based in Boston – a firm whose website boasts a Chief Enthusiasm Officer, a Client Solutions Savant, stock photos of diverse teams, and a client list that includes Coca-Cola and Papa John’s.  The website sells generic and all-encompassing consulting sessions on “complex business challenges,” “organizational development,” and “dynamic and multi-faceted solutions.” While this firm is clearly adept at selling the snake oil of incomprehensible and meaningless corporate jargon, it does not contain even one specific reference to expertise in anti-racism training, unless you count the firm’s offer of sessions that help executives “discover the business case for diversity.”  Suffice to say, this is not what we need.

Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to line the pockets of outside consultants for feel-good workshops masquerading as racial justice training is more than just cynical – it’s actively counter-productive.  District executives get to hug it out in gimmicky workshops while our students, staff, and families receive a message of fleeting intent on the part of their public school district.  It is performative without substance.  We need a comprehensive and measurable commitment to *substantive* racial justice work – work that addresses the retention of educators of color; the systemic inequity inherent in high-stakes standardized testing; the racism of practices espoused by district partners like the Relay “Graduate School” of Education; the rapid privatization of our schools and the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on charter advertising and billboards rather than fully funding our public schools which serve primarily students of color; and the development of anti-racist curriculum to use in place of current Eurocentric programs like StudySync.  Please vote NO on action item 1 so that the district can re-think how it might better convey a real commitment to racial justice.  Thank you.