Timber Creek High School Principal Michelle Somerhalder and Keller ISD Superintendent Rick Westfall both issued statements Thursday, June 4, discussing how TCHS and Keller ISD overall are dealing with issues of cultural and racial inclusion.
The statements come after multiple days of protests around the country with the Black Lives Matter movement. Talon reporters put together a chronology of how the protests developed over multiple years in this story published on May 31: The Death of George Floyd Sets America on Fire
In response to multiple reports on social media, including many sent directly to Talon, administration sent out statements to clarify and detail their plans for dealing with students that exhibited racist and/or hateful behavior online. Additionally, administrators detailed steps the district has been and/or will be taking to create “a culturally inclusive educational setting.”
TCHS Principal Michelle Somerhalder specified that the “hateful behavior circulating on social media” would not be tolerated at Timber Creek.
“This kind of behavior will not be tolerated here, and we want you to know that we have addressed each of these issues to our fullest abilities, as we have limited authority when school is not in session,” Somerhalder detailed in the e-mail statement. “However, please be assured that this will not be ignored, and we know there is work to be done.”
She also again encouraged parents to discuss “unacceptable behavior” with their students and praised students and staff who reported the behaviors seen on social media. Her full letter is published below.
Keller ISD Superintendent Dr. Rick Westfall issued a separate statement to the district, detailing efforts of developing a “Culture of Belonging” that began in 2019. His full letter is published below.
Included in the letter, Dr. Westfall also specifically addressed black members of the community.
“On a personal note, I am listening and I know our African-American students, staff, and families are hurting,” Westfall described in the letter. “I want to assure you I am committed to developing a stronger community together in Keller ISD.”
Meanwhile, Timber Creek Talon has been working to cover the events and answer questions and concerns as quickly and accurately as possible. Talon Editor-in-Chief for 2020-2021, Aleena Davis, shared this statement describing the students’ plans to cover the information.
“The Timber Creek Talon strives to be unbiased and cover current events with as much information as possible,” Davis said. “We strive to keep our students and community up to date with local and worldwide issues. While some issues regarding our own students cannot be directly reported by our reporters, we do see and hear you. We are strong allies and push to cover important topics and we understand the importance of these topics. Our plans are to keep covering as the Black Lives Matter movement continues on.”
See previous coverage of Black Lives Matter related stories here (Selected content from Oct. 2016 to May 2020):
- The Death of George Floyd Sets America on Fire
- Then and Now: The Leaders of Black History; Alicia Garza
- Timber Creek Students March For Equality
- Americans, Candidates Divided Over Social Issues
These statements were e-mailed to Timber Creek and/or Keller ISD families and are published below in full, unedited form.
Timber Creek Administration Statement
Addressing Important Issues in TCHS Community
Good evening, Falcon Family,
I wanted to reach out today to address some very important issues being brought to our attention that are happening right here in our own community. There has been some hateful behavior circulating on social media, which unfortunately has included Timber Creek High School students.
This kind of behavior will not be tolerated here, and we want you to know that we have addressed each of these issues to our fullest abilities, as we have limited authority when school is not in session. However, please be assured that this will not be ignored, and we know there is work to be done.
As you may have seen in Superintendent Dr. Westfall’s message to our community from earlier today, that while no organization is immune to these struggles, Keller ISD has proactively worked and will continue to strive toward tackling racial inequities and creating a culturally inclusive educational setting.
Please join me. Parents, please take the time to discuss this type of unacceptable behavior with your students. Staff and students, please continue your efforts – I am so proud of those who have spoken up. We always encourage, “If you see something, say something. Report it. Don’t spread it,” and I appreciate you for embracing this course of action.
Thank you for your support and cooperation as we create a culture of belonging for all students and staff.
Timber Creek High School
Keller ISD Administration Statement
Superintendent Addresses Cultural Inclusion Efforts
Dear Keller ISD Families,
As we near the end of the week, I wanted to take some time to provide more detail regarding how Keller ISD has proactively worked and will continue to build a safe environment that will not tolerate racial inequities all while creating a culturally inclusive educational setting. No organization is immune to these struggles and I hope you will see how we are working toward creating a culture that is positive for all of our students, staff and families.
As a District, we believe that creating a culture where all students and staff feel that they belong is a vital part of being intentionally exceptional. In the beginning of 2019, as a collaborative effort of the Student Services, Counseling, and Social-Emotional Learning Departments, the Creating a Culture of Belonging Initiative was born. This work is driven by a committee that meets every first Monday of the month to have intentional conversations on race, culture and equity. This committee, open to the community and representing a diverse group of teachers, administrators, counselors and parents, helped us secure a grant to bring in Quantum Possibilities, a professional coaching team to train and develop cultural competence throughout the District. In 2020, the training is now making its way to teachers and we started to have campus-level conversations. Additionally, the committee assisted in the production of a Cultural Celebration in June 2019 as a part of our ROCK Summit Conference, where the theme was Creating a Culture of Belonging and our key note, Meena Srinivasan, spoke on education through a culturally relevant lens. We also hosted our first HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) event for high school students this past fall.
In order to make sure this work reaches the students, the committee has also been working with the Social Studies Department to put “Culture Circles” in history classes at the secondary level, which will support students to have brave and safe conversations around social identity. At the elementary level, students are beginning to explore these conversations in their morning meetings. We are also excited to announce that our World History teachers were trained in February by the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum on teaching lessons alongside their curriculum.
We acknowledge that developing cultural competency as a District is a journey, and while the work this past year has been a great start, we recognize that there is more work to be done. We are thankful to parents and community members who are also passionate about this conversation. If you are interested in learning more or being part of the conversation, please email CreatingCOB@kellerisd.net and a member of our educational staff will respond as soon as possible.
On a personal note, I am listening and I know our African-American students, staff, and families are hurting. I want to assure you I am committed to developing a stronger community together in Keller ISD. Take care and have a great weekend.
Dr. Rick Westfall, Superintendent