Testimony of Nick Palazzolo to the BOE, August 20, 2020

Good evening, 

Last month, I spoke in support of our Black students demanding racial equity at Central and the Racial Justice Organizing Committee’s ten demands for our District. 

Tonight, I am back to join with my students and demand a Director of Equity and Inclusion position at Central. 

They have spent time this summer meeting with Directors of Equity and Inclusion at other schools to learn about the position and what is needed for its success. They have put in the work to meet with one another, to freedom-dream, craft demands, prepare for meetings with our principal, write speeches for rallies, deliver testimony before you all last month and at yesterday’s town hall, and organize with students from across the District. They are living and leading in the legacy of 1967. 

But it is not enough to be inspired by them and stand in awe of their power.  The poet Alok would urge us to ask: why do they need to be powerful and inspirational? We, and you, must use our power to change the conditions that require them to be brave and inspirational to simply live and learn with dignity in their own city and school. 

They know what they need. They know you can use your power to meet their demands. 

We say that this board and the Superintendent serve Philly’s students and families. But what should that mean in practice? It should mean that when our students inform you of what is needed, you figure out how to get it done. 

Our students have asked our principal for a fully released Director of Equity and Inclusion. Will you support them and advocate for this position? Dr. Hite, will you commit financial resources to get this done? 

We and our student leaders know that should a teacher be hired in this role with just one or two periods released, they would be set up to fail, to simply manage the racism and inequity. 

And the inequities at Central are vast and require substantive policy changes and transformation of our school culture. We need someone in a decision-making position dedicated to leading this work. 

Last month, I made clear some of the inequities at our school. 

Last year, Black students made up less than 20% of the student body. Our Latinx population was at 7%. All this in a District that is 52% Black and 21% Latinx

In my analysis of Central’s AP courses for the 2018-19 school year, I found that although Black students made up 21% of Central’s student body that year, they represented just 10% of all AP students

Beyond numbers, there remains a lack of representative curriculum in many classes, a refusal to affirm Black diasporic culture on International Day (I need to pause because I cannot help but note that I saw a similar refusal from board member McColgan  to affirm Black Lives Matter Week of Action and the work of Black educators and students who have out in years of work), widespread use of racial slurs, and racist views that increasing equity and access somehow means lowering standards, that Black students are somehow lucky to be at Central. In fact, Central is lucky to have Black students since Central has not proven itself to be a safe and affirming environment for them. 

Committing the resources to this Director of Equity & Inclusion position would be a step towards ensuring that we build this safe and affirming environment. 

My testimony from last month remains unanswered. We still want to know if you will: 

  • eliminate the use of standardized test scores for admissions to magnet schools,
  • reinstitute the use of race in the school selection process, 
  • increase recruitment efforts from predominantly Black and Brown schools that are underrepresented,
  • abolish the use of testing as a barrier to entry to AP courses, and 
  • create a Department of Equity and Inclusion at 440 instead of relying on unpaid, volunteer labor through the Equity Coalition. 

Thank you,

Nick Palazzolo

Central High School