Community should have open, honest conversations about racial matters

In time for National Bullying Prevention Month and on the heals of a racial incident that disrupted school, Kearney Superintendent Bill Nicely reminds the community that words have power and conversations about diversity and race should take place throughout the community.

Over the years, Kearney School District has come to be recognized as a progressive school district in the Kansas City metropolitan area and across the state. This comes as a result of innovation in the classroom. KSD continues to strive for high quality academic programs that ensure students not only become proficient in the basics, but acquire additional skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and character because all are necessary career readiness assets. However, there is another component the school must possess to ensure student success for all.

When students experience stressors in their lives, all of the progressiveness a school has to offer is meaningless. If you had to go to work hungry or while you didn’t feel well, or when your social-emotional well-being was in chaos, then your ability to do your job effectively and efficiently would be jeopardized. The same is true for students. Research has proven that a brain under stress cannot critically process information.

Recently, you may have heard about incidents of racial bullying which occurred at one of our schools as well as outside of school. As a school superintendent, occurrences such as this are very troubling to me because they create stressors in the lives of students, and not just the student who is the target of the bullying. As a district, we fight bullying in a wide variety of ways, but this message is not just about bullying; it’s about specific incidents of bullying around race.

As a school and community leader, I see this as a strong signal that we have to do more. We must start having open, honest and even public conversations about what we want for our children. Every time a student or adult makes a derogatory comment about another person’s race, he or she is not just marginalizing that person, they are marginalizing every other person of color in our school and community. That marginalization even extends to other people who are different from the norm. When that happens for students, just like all the other stressors, those students’ capacity to learn is diminished.

Sometimes we forget the impact words can have on children and adults. The only way we can begin to understand the impact, as well as the lasting consequences, is to start talking about it. Inside our schools, we are having the conversation.

I encourage you to do the same in your home, with the other adults you know and with your children. When we see wrong being done, we as adults need to speak up, and we need to empower our children to do the same. To remain silent could be seen as agreement; we are better than that.

The success of so many students depends on us. Let’s come together to ensure that the community and school environment we create for each and every student is one that sets the stage for unhindered learning.

Bill Nicely is superintendent of the Kearney School District. He can be reached at

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