Internal Investigation Community Letter

The following is a letter from interim RSU 21 superintendent Dr. Philip Potenziano, addressing the independent investigations and the incidents that spurred it.

The letter was shared with the community and The Herd.

December 6, 2019

Dear RSU 21 Community,

I spent much of the snowy, extended weekend reflecting on the past year. Reflecting on my family, my experiences, my relationships, and my work here at RSU 21. As I thought about the impact of the incidents that were the focus of the recent independent investigation, I felt sad, angry, discouraged, and deeply sorry that our students, staff, and community stakeholders were put through the turmoil of these events. I wish that we could go back to those days – to have responded differently, to have supported those involved more thoroughly, to possibly even thwart the incident altogether, but sadly we cannot.

Since this situation came to light, I, along with staff, administrators, students, and many community stakeholders have done our best to listen, respond, and support those impacted, while simultaneously sculpting a district-wide approach to instill a foundation of acceptance for all. As I presented at the  March 4, 2019, School Board meeting, the work we have embarked on is based on the methodology of Paolo Freire’s Seminal Work, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” The components of which are:

  • Love – Foundation of Dialogue
  • Humility – Open to New Ideas
  • Faith – Confident in the Community
  • Hope – Equity is Attainable
  • Critical Thinking – Leaders are open to uncovering systems and structures that perpetuate community inequity

At times my approach may appear disjointed, but I assure you that at every point along the way I have and will work to ensure that events like those that have previously occurred will never happen again. 

I found myself feeling grateful for the many actions that the school board has taken, including a public commitment affirming the following:
The objective of RSU 21 is to be a welcoming and inclusive community that supports the safety and well-being of all our students, faculty, and staff. We are committed to implementing programs and practices that support diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Looking to the year ahead, there is still much work to be done as a district, as a community, and as individuals – but rest assured I am committed to fostering an inclusive, safe, caring, and challenging learning environment, which serves as the foundation for student and professional growth. 

Take a few minutes to look at what we have already accomplished by visiting the RSU 21 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion page. There, you will find information pertaining to how we have collaborated with the Department of Justice, The Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants, EqualityMaine and others. Looking ahead, I am proposing critical Affirmative Action training to ensure that all future internal district investigations are properly documented and reported to the appropriate individuals. I’m hopeful the school board will support my recommendation at the meeting next Tuesday, as we don’t have time to waste. 

Let me end by saying, when you look at graduation rates, college-entrance rates, and other measures that hold schools accountable, the performance of our district today is better than it’s ever been. We provide all of our students, beginning in Pre-K, with a pathway to becoming their best selves, whether they are college-bound or looking to enhance their career and job-related skills. However, there will always be room for growth in our culture and climate when students and staff experience racial insults, slurs, and/or other hate speech. While I can’t go back and change what has happened, I will work to change the future, and that is what I’ve resolved to do. 

Please join me in my call for all students, staff, families, and other members of our community to engage in the dismantling of systemic racism, hateful language, and violent actions. Together, we will make our district one of tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion for all.

Wishing you all the best in this season of reflection, gratitude, and resolution.