You may have seen this piece by WUIS, the NPR station in Springfield, and have questions or concerns about it. Since a number of things in this story are exaggerated or plainly false, I thought for a brief moment about not sending this note, as I don’t want to give undue weight to something so unfair. But I think it’s important to meet difficult issues head on. I am so proud to work at Noble, and I want to make sure you have the context and clarity necessary to feel that same pride. You are extraordinary human beings, and this article is not reflective of that.
First, a number of things in this story are simply misrepresented, and the article draws negative conclusions about the broad Noble experience – and our 12,000 students and families and 1,300 staff members – from a very small number of interviews, citing anecdotes that are several years old. The article also seems to imply that our parents, because the majority of them are low-income, are somehow less intelligent or lack agency because they’ve chosen a school with purposeful structure for their child. I find this condescending and deeply offensive.
However, it’s also important to be reflective in this moment. Just this week, Mike sent us all a video about Humility and Self-Awareness, one of Noble’s core values, so I do feel an impulse to look inward and acknowledge that we are not perfect. Our students and families deserve the best from us, and it is deeply disappointing any time that we come up short. On the rare occasions where our student code of conduct has been applied overzealously, we’ve worked with school leaders and staff members to correct those issues and make sure we stay centered on what matters most – great results for our students. The article quoted a Noble graduate named Deshawn, now a student at Brown, who expressed reservations about his experience with us. We are incredibly proud of him and his peers, and anything that diminished his trust in us is heartbreaking. Deshawn and all of our students should feel safe, supported and welcomed each day when they walk through our doors. We cannot ignore moments when we fall short of what our students deserve; instead, we must continue to hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards, stay reflective, and always improve.
In my time at our campuses, it’s my firm belief that we do so. I’ve seen how our leaders and staff continue to break new ground, push each other’s thinking, and improve the Noble experience every year. So, while I acknowledge our imperfections, I also celebrate our willingness and flexibility to hold each other accountable and get better. And I just don’t see the Noble that I know and love reflected in this article.
Specifically, I want to directly address the issues of race and equity because it is very personal to me. I shared my feelings on some of this critical topic during Black History Month. I am extremely proud of the work that we do for communities of color and the future we are helping to create. We are getting Chicago public school students to and through college at rates this city has never seen, ever, while empowering them and their families to change the trajectory of their communities. It is a joy to work here, to walk our schools and know that every African American and Latino child I see is getting the best possible public high school education and college preparation this city has to offer. THAT’s what Noble does. That work is only possible because of you.
Even more, I’m upset at the characterization of how the people who do this great work treat our black boys in particular, because Noble is heading in the entirely opposite direction, in both daily practice and annual results, than what this article suggests. The facts don’t lie. With several years of thoughtful improvements and by incorporating an annual parent review panel of the student code of conduct, every year we’re reducing suspensions and expulsions at historic rates for all demographics – including black boys, who are on track this year to have an expulsion rate of less than half of a percent - while still maintaining some of the highest retention and graduation rates across the city. We know that discipline practices for African American young men is a national discussion, and we’re doing our part to improve. What’s more, we’re doing this while continuing to send African American and Latino males to college at rates nearly double those of district schools. We should all take immense pride in that.
I’ll close by saying that we are not perfect and will always be an organization committed to constant learning and improvement. Our work is not easy. But we will not rest until we and our students are the best we can be. Don’t be discouraged by this article; I know the truth of Noble’s incredible work, and I know you do, too. Most importantly, so do our students and families. We do this work for them.
Constance (CJ) Jones Brewer