It’s not easy to start a new job in the middle of a global pandemic. And the CRE chatted with Phillip Marcus Jr, the new Director of Equity, Inclusion and Wellness for the Chappaqua Central School District the morning after violent insurgents stormed the Capitol building, some carrying Confederate flags.
Yet Marcus emanates a such a strong sense of thoughtfulness and calm that after talking to him, the world didn’t seem quite so frightening. And that’s saying something amid multiple national crises.
Meet Phillip Marcus, who began his newly created job here at the end of November. His broad assignment is to help propel the district’s equity, social justice and anti-racism work forward, continuing to embed more culturally competent practices and systems in the schools and classrooms.
Where does Marcus start? Right now, he’s in “a diagnostic mode,” speaking to different stakeholders about what is and has been happening in the district. The biggest challenge, he believes, will be aligning everyone across the CCSD on what “equity” actually means.
“There’s no definition of equity that doesn’t involve loss,” says Marcus. “Part of my role is helping people understand that true change is turbulent.”
Marcus talks about the necessary “social emotional learning,” which involves mentally preparing for this process. What does our racial self-identity mean in terms of self-awareness? The reality remains that if you are white, you process race very differently than if you are Black, Marcus says.
The work is not easy, but can be transformative, Marcus says, especially around issues of equity, race and inclusion. It begins with creating conditions to learn an anti-racism mindset. Self-examination can be particularly challenging in a high-performing district like Chappaqua, where people are not comfortable with mistakes. When it comes to issues of equity and race, Marcus likens social emotional learning to literacy.
“We don’t learn to read and go on to Shakespeare,” he says. “We need to meet people where they are and give them better information. Everyone is on a journey and everyone is in a different place. It’s about your willingness to show up with a curious mind and an open heart.”
There’s no sugar coating the challenge that Marcus faces. No one wants to believe they have malignant intent. Some people make racist decisions unknowingly. Ultimately, the district needs to “center equity as one of our core values in everything we do," he says.
Marcus comes to Chappaqua from Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, where he was Middle School Assistant Principal of Instruction, overseeing 30 teachers and several department chairs. Previously, Marcus was a building leader with the NYC Department of Education. An active facilitator of professional learning for his colleagues and teachers with a particular emphasis on equity, anti-racism and culturally competent instruction, Marcus has also worked as a literacy coach and English teacher at both the middle school and high school levels.
Coming from the Bronx, Marcus said, he was taken aback by the sight of instruments in the music room and a variety of supplies in the art room at Horace Greeley High School – signs of the district’s financial resources. District administrators have been very supportive of his work, he says. Because of the pandemic, Marcus hasn’t yet seen the schools in full swing, with students packing the hallways and classrooms full. Yet meeting one-on-one with various community members has allowed for a type of intimacy that he says may not otherwise have happened.
Marcus notes that “wellness” is in his job description, and he is concerned about how both students and adults are both functioning in and processing the pandemic. He wants to stress self-care for everyone in the district.
He is, of course, particularly attuned to BIPOC families and says he would like to hear from the community about their experiences, particularly from those families that have not been traditionally engaged. Marcus says he has read the CRE’s recommendations and looks forward to synthesizing them into a larger, coherent plan.
So why Chappaqua - what made him choose the district?
“If change can be made here,” Marcus says, “there is no longer a question of whether change can be made in other places.”
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