Today marks the first of 12 visits Jacob Sirna will make to RBHS to meet with faculty in an effort to learn “as much about RBHS as possible” and begin to create professional relationships, he wrote in an email to faculty.
Sirna, current principal of Marshall High School in Marshall, Mo., will assume principalship of RBHS next year as current principal, Dr. Jennifer Rukstad, takes her position as the assistant superintendent of secondary education.
Within two years of his arrival, the boundary lines for Columbia Public Schools (CPS) will shift, leaving RBHS with the lowest number of students receiving free and reduced lunch. RBHS’ numbers may drop from 21.69 percent in 2016 to 18 percent after redistricting.
In Sirna’s experience with CPS, he said he worked in two very “diverse” and “very wonderful buildings,” both with significantly higher free and reduced lunch numbers than RBHS currently experiences. His time at Battle High School and Oakland Junior High became part of his filter through which he sees the world and will remain something he refers back to, thinks about and drives him and the decisions he makes.
“I bring a different set of experiences,” Sirna said. “I’m eager to learn Rock Bridge, and I’m eager to become Rock Bridge, but I’m going to keep those close to me at all times because they’re very meaningful things.”
He said he thinks it is important for the RBHS community to recognize the gap that exists in “the greater community of Columbia” and how other parts of the community probably did not view the new free and reduced lunch numbers positively.
Created in 2002, Multicultural Achievement Committee (MAC) Scholars aims to help students achieve academic, emotional and social success by providing them with the skills and support they need. As the treasurer of MAC Scholars, senior Maddie Collier said members do not need empathy; they need the same opportunities as others.
One way to accomplish this, Collier said, is to acknowledge and celebrate different cultures through events like Global Village. For her, continuing to learn about and welcome people from other cultures with open arms is one way the school can create equity among all its students.
“[It is important to] keep the ideas of equity, diversity [and] inclusion at the forefront and just embrace that we are all different,” Collier said, “and you shouldn’t be treated differently no matter the skin color.”
Even as new redistricting lines threaten to further divide local communities, Dr. Rukstad said Columbia’s changing demographic holds the potential for the city to become less segregated. She said it is difficult to navigate RBHS’ separation from other CPS schools with the impact of the new free and reduced lunch numbers. Dr. Rukstad said it is the responsibility of adults and students alike to acknowledge advantages, the deficits of other schools and the “great jobs” they are doing with those “difficulties.”
Are we just going to be kind of the school on the hill down south and doesn’t have to deal with some of these things and what will that means for students in our school who do have to deal with poverty and do have to deal with cultural issues in our city?”
“The extreme amount of promise and potential that is in every student in our district,” Dr. Rukstad said, “no matter who they are and what school they’re in, but we all come with kind of different tools and how do we plan to [do] this and it’s a little bit awkward but that’s going to be a big challenge for Mr. Sirna, is what’s Rock Bridge’s part of this story. Are we just going to be kind of the school on the hill down south and doesn’t have to deal with some of these things and what will that means for students in our school who do have to deal with poverty and do have to deal with cultural issues in our city?”
To ensure equity, Sirna said everybody should understand it is impossible to “understand anyone else’s experience personally and to be open.” He said the uniqueness of each individual and the respect others should have for those differences “fits really well” with the school’s culture of freedom with responsibility and openness. For people who have lived in more isolated communities, however, Sirna said it can be difficult to relate to and empathize with the struggles of people with different lives, experiences and backgrounds than themselves.
“It’s important for all of us to recognize that we can’t possibly understand what it is to be somebody else, and that is all aspects of life,” Sirna said. “It’s not just financial, it’s not just race, it’s not just any social construct that you want to bring up. It’s everything. And then even within those social constructs, to say that one person’s experience is everybody’s experience is just not the case. You can’t generalize and stereotype anything that way.”
What do you think Sirna needs to know about RBHS to be an effective leader? Let us know in the comments below.