In September 2018, NASSP and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced a partnership to highlight the important role that principals have in striving for educational equity, with a focus on safety and inclusion for LGBTQ students. As part of this work, Dr. Beverly Hutton, NASSP’s deputy executive director for programs and services, led a team of four school leaders to the sixth annual Time to THRIVE Conference in February, where they had an opportunity to build awareness and cultural competency, learn current and emerging best practices, and gather resources from leading experts and other national organizations in the field.
Chuck Puga, principal of Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, CO, said that when he told other attendees that he was at the conference representing the NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee, “the overwhelming response was an appreciation for NASSP’s partnership with the HRC and the conference.” Principal Puga added that everyone was very thankful about the public stance NASSP has taken to support LGBTQ students and educators, and he was able to network with colleagues and take ideas back to improve his practices at Smoky Hill.
Dixie Garrison, principal of West Jordan Middle School in West Jordan, UT, called Time to THRIVE “one of the most meaningful experiences” in her career. “I have felt alone and even fearful as an openly gay principal in Utah. I have had my advocacy efforts questioned by those who perceive me as pushing my own agenda, when in reality I am making my school and district a better place for all students.”
Dr. Hutton and the four principals led a workshop session where they shared how they have created a safe and welcoming school climate for LGBTQ students, teachers, and other school staff. They talked about the important role of school leaders in supporting student-led initiatives such as Gay-Straight Alliance, or Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs and how they engage LGBTQ students and ensure they have a voice in their school. They also talked about the need for diversity and equity training, professional development on trauma-informed practices, and additional mental health professionals in their schools.
“I feel the panel discussion was an excellent opportunity for participants to hear about best practices in supporting students throughout the United States,” said Dustin Miller, principal of Dublin Jerome High School in Dublin, OH.
Another member of the Student Leadership Advisory Committee, Julie Kasper, a first-year assistant principal at Century High School in Hillsboro, OR, said that she wished she had known about the conference earlier in her career and encouraged more teachers, students, and administrators to attend in the future. She plans to share resources with her staff and encourage students to apply to become HRC Youth Ambassadors, noting, “This conference reinforced for me the importance of the work we are doing in our schools to promote accepting, safe, and nurturing environments for all kids, employees, and community members. We should celebrate ALL kids.”
The four school leaders will lead a concurrent session at the National Principals Conference, July 18–20 in Boston, where they will be joined by Dr. Vincent “Vinnie” Pompei, director of the youth well-being project at the HRC. Attendees will build a foundational level of cultural competency on LGBTQ identities and share their successes and challenges in creating collaborative learning opportunities for all students. For more information, go to www.principalsconference.org.
Here in Washington, D.C., NASSP will collaborate with HRC to support federal legislation that would provide LGBTQ students with the safety and support they need at school, such as:
- Equality Act, which would provide consistent and explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals, including education, employment, and other federally funded programs
- Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would explicitly prohibit public K–12 schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity
- Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require public K–12 schools to adopt codes of conduct that specifically prohibit bullying and harassment
NASSP will also join HRC for their seventh annual Time to THRIVE conference, scheduled February 14–16, 2020, in Washington, D.C. Registration will open in early summer at www.TimeToTHRIVE.org.