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Sam Ouk

As the director of equity and inclusion for Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools and a member of the City of Savage’s Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Task Force, I have received many emails and phone calls expressing deep sadness, disgust and concern over the horrific, racist video that was recently posted by a PLHS student. I have also received numerous feedback on what needs to be done to ensure that all students feel safe, welcomed and respected in our schools.

Along with suggestions came offers to volunteer and support the students and the schools. I am thankful and appreciative for all the feedback. If anything, these past few days have added even more evidence to the fact that more needs to be done in the work of anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion in Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools and the Prior Lake and Savage communities. My hope is that we can come together in unity to do this important work.

As a person of color growing up in Rochester, Minnesota, I remember, first hand, having to overcome racism and hate due to the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes and the lived experiences I had that made me so different from the other students around me.

My family were survivors of the Cambodian Killing Fields. As a child, I often grew up feeling that I have no place where I belong. Everyday I walked into school, I felt like I was entering a foreign country where I will always be the forever visitor. The decoration on the school walls, the stories being told in books, the assemblies being celebrated, few if any, validated my existence. To some, I was forever the unwanted visitor.

Students, I can relate to your experiences. This work is personal. What brought me to PLSAS was that I was fully aware that the district had invested time and energy in the work of equity and inclusion. The school board passed a resolution highlighting their commitment to equity and all teachers were provided training on culturally relevant pedagogy. The district’s commitment to equity and inclusion is why I accepted the job to be its first director of equity and inclusion in July.

It is absolutely fair to discuss and disagree on how much work has been done. People who have been impacted by systemic racism and racial hate may conclude that the wrong work was done. Regardless of our different opinions, there should be no disagreement that more work needs to be done. And it is this continued work beyond the response phase to a tragic event that will help us in achieving our goal of creating a more inclusive community where all are welcomed and respected.

I have only been here for four months. However, in my short time here, I know that Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools and the Prior Lake and Savage community have the right people with the heart and passion to be leaders in this work. I look forward to the partnership and collaboration with students, parents and community members.

Sam Ouk is director of equity and inclusion at Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools.