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Newton North principal honored for antiracism initiatives

Henry Turner, principal of Newton North High School, was named principal of the year for his work on antiracism and equity.
Henry Turner, principal of Newton North High School, was named principal of the year for his work on antiracism and equity.CONTRIBUTED PHOTO (Custom credit)

Newton North High School’s principal, Henry Turner, has been named principal of the year by the online publication K-12 Dive for his commitment to equity and antiracism.

The Dive Awards for 2020 honored people across industries, from frontline workers to executives, recognizing “leadership in a time of unprecedented crisis” as the nation grappled with the coronavirus pandemic as well as political, racial, and economic upheaval.

Under Turner’s leadership, Newton North created a Human Rights Council to proactively empower students of color. It’s also offering a new course, Action through Literature, designed to help students develop skills around civil action and social justice, Turner said.

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“These are skills that we think are essential for students as they enter a diverse society,” said Turner, who became principal in 2016. “We want students to be good upstanders, we want them to speak out against any sort of hate, we want them to be able to work in a diverse setting and to be an advocate for others.”

Also honored were Marlon Styles, who leads the Middletown City Schools in Middletown, Ohio, as superintendent of the year; and Highline Public Schools in Burien, Wash., as district of the year.

K-12 Dive — a publication of Industry Dive, a Washington, D.C.-based company that provides industry insights — focuses on news and trends shaping K-12 education.

“The Dive Awards for 2020 highlight the stories of the organizations and leaders who met the moment by showing empathy for the human condition, agility amid uncertainty and disruption, and resilience in the face of adversity,” Davide Savenije, Industry Dive’s editor-in-chief, said in a press release announcing the awards in December.

Before coming to Newton North, Turner was the principal of Bedford High School. He previously taught at Lexington High School and Mohawk Trail Regional High School in Shelburne Falls.

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Kathy Lopes, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the Newton schools, said Turner prepared teachers to focus on students’ social and emotional needs as he approached the start of the school year amid the pandemic.

She said Turner has also encouraged teachers and staff to reflect on what it means to incorporate antiracist thinking into curriculum and grading policies. Lopes said she facilitated workshops on racial identity development, and staff reflected on “how they show up” in the classroom.

From focusing on culturally responsive teaching to increasing the number of faculty and staff of color, Lopes said Turner is cultivating antiracism in the high school.

“His consistent messaging is really, really important,” Lopes said. “I think he’s embedding antiracist thinking into the structure, he’s embedding it into the culture, he’s embedding it into personal growth.”

Valerie Young, an English teacher at Newton North, said Turner encouraged her to reflect on the content she is teaching and her practices in the classroom.

“For me, that’s been one of the most important things that Henry has made me examine,” she said.

To diversify her English curriculum, Young said she picked books written by women, people of color, and LGBTQ authors. She also said Turner encourages teachers at the high school to prioritize the diverse needs of students. Young said the school also uses a variety of methods to evaluate student performance rather than traditional exams and is sensitive to students who might have their cameras off during virtual class.

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“I feel 100 percent supported, and I feel like I could go to Henry with a challenge and know that he would certainly give me the time and his wisdom,” Young said.

Turner’s dedication to antiracism work has been a major part of his role as principal since he started at Newton North, said Michele Leong, a co-facilitator of Newton North’s Office of Human Rights.

“In terms of personal support for staff members and for students and the institutionalized support, I think they’re all really important,” Leong said. “They’ve been coming together nicely under his principalship.

Kami Rieck can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.