Holding Ourselves Accountable
Friends Select School is committed to deepening its values of equity and social justice while continuing its longstanding responsibility to—and partnership with—the city of Philadelphia. In 2018, the school announced the Advance Friends Select: Transformation Campaign, the culmination of its strategic plan that focuses on excellence in teaching and learning, financial sustainability and endowment growth, use of space and strategic partnerships and relationships.
“Educational experts believe student agency and cross-cultural competence are essential skills to thrive in a society that’s growing increasingly diverse,” said Michael Gary, Friends Select’s head of school. “Our strategic plan carefully considers ways to incorporate these ideas, and acknowledge their profound connection to our proud Quaker history and values.”
As part of Advance Friends Select, the school has hired a director of equity and inclusion and a director of city curriculum. They have been integral to helping the school hold itself accountable as a community, while expanding its partnerships with local universities, science institutes, arts and cultural organizations, social service agencies, businesses and government offices.
Toni Graves Williamson, director of equity and inclusion, and Margaret Smith, director of city curriculum, have been working to ensure that Friends Select’s vendors include more Black-owned, women-owned and locally owned businesses in the bidding process for major projects. The school uses Blackbaud to categorize its vendors and track how the school spends money while remaining focused on equity and inclusivity.
For instance, the school is renovating the first floor of its Parkway Building to add four lower school classrooms, an art studio, a larger front entrance and lobby, and administrative offices. Friends Select is also in the process of purchasing a second building adjacent to the Friends Center and Race Street Meetinghouse, where students attend Meeting for Worship.
The 1520 Race Street Building will be renovated to become state-of-the-art upper school science labs, art studios, offices and meeting spaces. Friends Select plans to work with its construction manager on identifying partners for this work that align with the school’s DEI goals.
“This campaign allows us to live our Quaker values of equity and inclusion, as we expect companies partnering with us to share our values and also support equity and inclusion in bidding and hiring subs,” Gary said.
Friends Select has also been focusing on equity and diversity in its hiring practices and professional development for its employees. Each January, the school holds a teaching symposium that attracts dozens of highly qualified candidates from across the country who are interested in teaching in independent schools.
This year’s symposium included a panel discussion on what it is like to be an educator of color at Friends Select. Potential applicants had the opportunity to discuss the topic with current faculty members.
This past year, Friends Select held multiple in-service days for its faculty and staff with a focus on becoming a more anti-racist community. This included working with the organization Facing History and Ourselves, and reading together and discussing Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.
“Time is one of the most precious commodities in a school community, and how we choose to use it speaks volumes about what we believe,” Gary said. “We will read, discuss and learn together about the systemic racism that has a grip on this nation and our individual consciousness with the hope of moving the conversation from theory to practice.”
One example of this vital work is Social Justice Week, an annual program that encourages and celebrates student-driven inquiry and agency. Williamson and Smith work with upper school students to develop a program of deep dives into contemporary social justice issues that incorporates meaningful local action.
“During the last two years, Social Justice Week brought together more than 94 individuals and organizations to focus on social justice and the intersections of racism, sexism and classism that pervade so many of the issues students want to know more about,” said Smith. “Connecting with grassroots and nonprofit organizations throughout the city helps us expand students’ expectations of what an expert can look like, and how expertise is developed.”
The Friends Select community is excited about the school’s purposeful, comprehensive approach to facilitating more diversity, equity and inclusion through its employment practices and vendor relations. By doing so, we put into practice what it means to provide a Quaker education in the heart of Center City Philadelphia.
This article was originally published in the National Business Officers Association's Net Assets Magazine.