Submitted by North Thurston Public Schools.
North Thurston Public Schools is pleased to welcome Dr. Antonio Sandifer as the new director of Equity and Languages! Sandifer previously served as the education director for the Skokomish Tribe in Shelton and as a board member for ESD113. He earned his Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership and has experience at both the elementary and secondary level in Tacoma and Spanaway and is a parent in North Thurston Public Schools.
We caught up with Sandifer recently to talk about his new responsibilities, the importance of equity in schools and the power of languages.
Tell us a little bit about your professional experience around equity and languages.
Sandifer: I started my teacher career in the Tacoma Public Schools, working in a middle school on the Eastside of Tacoma where most of the students were from the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community and living in low-income homes in a high-crime community. Being an African American male from Mississippi, I could relate to those students and wanted to ensure they received the best educational opportunities that were available to students of other racial backgrounds. I began my administrative work in the Bethel School District where I served as a Dean of Students for a junior high school and later worked at a Title I Coordinator. Recently, I served as the Education Director for the Skokomish Indian Tribe, where my passion for equity and languages was fully developed. I was privileged to oversee the revitalizing of the Skokomish people’s traditional language and ensure that the native American students were receiving equitable educational services in two school districts.
Why is it I important to include equity and languages as part of teaching and learning in our public schools?
Sandifer: It is important to include equity and languages as a part of teaching and learning because every student should have the opportunity to learn and grow in an environment that fosters inclusive and equitable teaching and learning. I believe it is the responsibility of those individuals who have the power and authority to ensure that every student—no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other barriers—are receiving services at the level that meets their individual needs.
What is the biggest misconception people have about equity?
Sandifer: I think for many people it’s the belief that if our organization focuses on the BIPOC community with equity work, then we will be excluding the white community. I want to educate people that when we focus on equity it not only brings attention to the issues and concerns of people in the BIPOC community but shines a light on the inequitable practices for all people. When policies and procedures are changed, they not only benefit BIPOC people, but everyone will benefit when there no unfair treatment of any group of people.
Why do we need to teach ethnic studies in schools?
Sandifer: We teach ethnic studies because it is American history. The United States of America was built on the backs of African slaves and other indigenous groups of people and without their labor our country would not be the great America that it is today. Also, ethnic studies teach students academic standards, while also teaching them to study, listen, and use critical thinking to authentically understand diverse lived experiences and histories. Also, it teaches them to love themselves, their families, and their community; and to devote their energy to bringing healing and creating positive social change.
As a parent in the district, what do you hope you children and others learn about social justice?
Sandifer: In the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As a parent in this school district, I hope that my children and all the children in this district will have a heart’s desire to eradicate racism and the systematic practices that have oppressed people in the BIPOC community. I hope they have a love for everyone and always treat people with dignity and respect.
What is your leadership style in working with different groups of people around difficult issues or conflicts?
Sandifer: My leadership style for working with different groups of people around difficult issues and conflict is a collaborative approach. It is necessary that people from various cultures and backgrounds are at the table where decision or being made and their individual voices are heard and valued. There will be times where I might disagree with the opinions or beliefs of others, but I promise they will be appreciated and heard. The subject of race is often uncomfortable and challenging but to establish a healthy and equitable school district, those conversation must occur, and strategic plans must be developed to address the issues.
As an African American man, what do you say to people who say, “I don’t see color?”
Sandifer: When people say, they “don’t see color,” they may be well-intentioned, but in reality, they do see the racial orientation of that person. When someone tells another human being that they do not see color, then you do not see me, my heritage, culture, belief and identity. BIPOC people’s skin color is a part of who they are, and we would like for others to appreciate the differences and experiences that we can offer. Additionally, I want everyone to see color and fully understand that in America, skin color does matter. People in the BIPOC community have been marginalized for over 400 years and to make real systemic change, race must be discussed.
What are you most looking forward to about working in North Thurston Public Schools?
Sandifer: I am so excited to be working in the North Thurston Public Schools for several reason. First, it is in my community and now I can help create change for the school district where my children attend. As a parent in the community, I am so proud of the equity work that has been done so far and I am so happy that I can continue building upon such a great start. Along with the equity work, I am looking forward to working with the English Language Learner, World Languages, and Native American Education staff. I know that my background and experiences will be very beneficial to the future advancement of those programs.