The Woodstock Academy adds Director of Equity and Inclusion
For the first time in its lengthy history, The Woodstock Academy will now have a Director of Equity and Inclusion.
Denzel Washington was recently named to the newly created role.
“The role of this new position is to keep all of us, the administration, the teachers, the entire staff, focused on the issue of equity and inclusion,” Woodstock Academy head of school Chris Sandford said. “What happens in any institution, and education is no different, is that if it’s no one’s job to focus on something, it typically gets put on the back burner and is an afterthought. Having someone in charge of that area, it is their role to remind us that the issue of equity and inclusion should be at the forefront of every decision we make.”
Washington is a graduate of Fitchburg State University where he majored in psychological science.
He came to The Academy in August 2017 to serve as the school’s prep basketball assistant coach and has also worked as assistant to the associate head of school, Holly Singleton.
He also teaches a class designed for the prep basketball players.
“I know it sounds cliché, but this new position means everything to me because it’s something that I have done all my life – advocating for others,” Washington said.
It has not gone unnoticed.
“Everything Denzel does is thoughtful, intentional, and aimed at bettering his players, students and the people around him,” wrote Woodstock Academy English teacher Katie Burns in a recommendation letter.
“Mr. Washington is kind and genuine. He works hard to see and understand people how they want to be seen; he is especially sensitive to marginalized and minority people,” added Clayton Singleton, a member of the Class of 2021.
Washington said his first goal is to create a platform for students to be able to voice how they feel. He has already begun to create both a student and staff focus group.
“We can’t say that we want to include everyone and not get to the main purpose, the students and their stories, that is why we are all here. How do the students feel about this? What do the students want to see?” Washington said.
He has already had students approach him about issues or actions that they are either concerned about of have had happen to them.
“I just feel honored that the reception to me getting this position meant so much to so many people,” Washington said.
But he also realizes a position like his at a school means change is coming.
Sandford said the 2021-22 school year will bring in the most diverse group of students and staff that Woodstock Academy has ever had.
And change is not always easily accepted.
“I think there will be hostile situations. I think there will be situations where everyone is holding hands and crying together. I don’t think that change will come easy. I understand there will be pushback on things that we are looking to achieve. What I will try to do is to keep everyone safe and respected, but sometimes, we have to push the agenda and get ourselves out of our comfort zones,” Washington said.
Washington said he wants to build on his focus groups and begin to establish programs for The Woodstock Academy community.
He also will begin to establish certain training sessions, such as micro-aggression and antibias, to help employees and students alike be more receptive to one another.
He also wants to help create a staff at the school that reflects more of what the student body looks like and creating a calendar that makes staff and students aware that it is Pride month, Black History month or Ramadan for example.
“We want to make sure that we are celebrating things where students feel they are being heard. For example, Ramadan. It starts on this day and ends on this day and during that time period, some of our students cannot eat or drink when the sun is up, therefore, they may be a little cranky and we need to understand what they are going through,” Washington said. “Fortunately, I don’t have to create the wheel. I can look at what other schools are doing and include Woodstock Academy in it, do something similar to it, or do it our own way. Creativity is what this job is all about.”
The Woodstock Academy is an independent, day and boarding, co-educational, college preparatory high school for grades 9–12 and postgraduates located in Woodstock, CT. The mission of The Woodstock Academy is to prepare all students for a lifetime of learning by providing academic rigor, a safe environment, and a diversity of educational experiences which will foster a sense of respect for self and others, and will encourage active investment in family, school, community, and the world.